Keep feds out of pot business 

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Reluctantly, while attending a mild-mannered Northern Gateway protest, I signed the petition to liberalize, legalize, do whatever to the ridiculous Canadian laws against pot. Frankly, I'm not entirely certain what the petition was trying to do and, having signed it, I'm having serious second thoughts.

If the new federal laws controlling medicinal marijuana are any indication, I'd just as soon keep the stuff illegal. As it stands right now, I know where I can get it, I know the quality is good, I know the price is reasonable — downright inexpensive compared to, for example, good scotch — and it gives me a chance to get to know some of the local high school kids. That last point was just a joke by the way; please, no strident emails.

Admittedly, medical marijuana is an oxymoron. While pot undoubtedly has medicinal, soothing, possibly even curative effects, it isn't medicine, unless that word is stripped of all meaning. It doesn't belong in Canada's healthcare system. Doctors shouldn't be prescribing it, given the fact they have no idea what they're prescribing nor what its effects are, other than the anecdotal evidence they get from their 'patients.' Drug plans and private insurance shouldn't be covering it any more than they'd cover, for example, good scotch, which in my anecdotal experience offers not insignificant relief from a variety of ills, many of which have yet to find their way into mainstream diagnostic manuals.

None of this is to say I'm against medical marijuana. Hey, if you want to think of it as medicine, be my guest. If you want me to think of it as medicine, I'll have to get as high as you are and probably have a cigarette after indulging in that large a rationalization.

I don't care whether you smoke the stuff to relieve your glaucoma, bursitis, phantom limb pain, chronic memory retention or erectile dysfunction. I don't care whether you smoke it just because you like to get high. I don't care if you smoke it because you think it's less fattening than alcohol. I don't care whether you indulge or not.

I do care that it's illegal. I care people are, yes, still going to jail for it, still carrying around the cross of a criminal conviction for the rest of their lives, still barred from entering certain professional fields because they got busted, still being turned away at the 'friendly' border between Canada and the U.S., still having to hang out around the local high school to score. That was a joke too, in case you still haven't caught on.

Pot should be legal. Full stop. It should be legal to use as medicine, it should be legal to use for fun, it should be legal to grow and legal to wrap up with a big red bow and give to your friends for Christmas. It shouldn't raise any more fuss or expose you to any more dire consequences than growing chervil in your garden or a chia pet on your windowsill.

It's unconscionable we still throw people into the criminal justice system for possessing or growing pot. The cost in terms of policing, incarceration and ruined lives — even measured in something so crude as lost or reduced lifetime earnings — is simply obscene. The actual numbers, which are horrific, don't even matter.

Pot is, in the overall scheme of things, harmless. It does not lead to crime, violence, death or, necessarily, harder drugs. It may lead to very ugly cases of the screaming munchies, fits of uncontrollable and seemingly inexplicable laughter and deep sleep.

Unlike alcohol, unlike even hard drugs, you can consume marijuana until you cough your lungs out or laugh until you puke and still wake up and go to work the next morning with no more vicious side effects than dry mouth, a sore throat and tender ribs.

But here's the rub: you don't have to. You can also consume marijuana in much the same way you consume alcohol — just enough to give you a mellow glow, not enough to leave you incapacitated. Don't believe me? The evidence is all around you. You can smell it on the mountain and you can smell it on the breath and clothes of people with whom you conduct business and who seem no more deranged than anyone who might have had a beer with their lunch and a lot less deranged than quite a few 'straight' people who just don't know where the off switch is for their Type A personality.

Hell, pot's not even particularly a health risk. When my Perfect Partner was undergoing treatment for the lung cancer that eventually killed her, the oncologists wanted to know if she'd ever smoked cigarettes — no — but were totally indifferent to whether she'd ever smoked pot. "It's not a risk factor," they said.

Which is not to say there aren't downsides. As medical science learns more about how brains develop there is a growing consensus that pot consumption isn't the best thing for the healthy growth of adolescent brains. Fair enough. Like alcohol and tobacco, I'm unaware of anyone advocating a free for all where anyone of any age should have legal access. Don't be silly. OK, try not to be silly.

And, of course, there is a quantum of high beyond which one should not operate heavy machinery, drive cars or flame crepes or tequila. But setting limits is a reasonable act of a reasonable people; prohibition is an irrational act of a mindless people.

Still though, I'm not certain I want either of our senior levels of government to mess with current pot laws. The Harper Cons new regs for medicinal marijuana are a case in point. People who 'need' medicinal pot can no longer grow their own. The production has been handed over to, surprise, large-scale, corporate growers. It is widely expected this will have three effects. First, it'll criminalize a bunch of people who, for varied reasons, will choose to continue to grow their own but without the protection from prosecution they currently enjoy. Two, it'll drive up the price. Three, it'll be a windfall for the criminal organizations who will still be very effectively producing and distributing illegal pot since some significant percentage of medicinal pot users who were formerly growers will opt for the black market as opposed to the government's market.

If they can screw up something that should be so simple, what might they do to the wider recreational market?

Decades ago, having been inspired by a visit from Ralph Nader, I helped organize a local chapter of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. I alternately laugh and cringe at my naiveté. We honestly thought we were years away from strolling into the local 7-11 and buying a pack of Maui Wowie.

Now? I'll be happy to keep hanging out at the high school. Joke, joke. Jeez, lighten up.

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