Maxed Out 

Soft on one side, hard on the other

So, you're in a dark alley on the wrong side of town. Which town? Doesn't really matter all that much but let's say Surrey, where even the right side of town - assuming there is one - can be scary depending on which side of the road you're trying to dodge erratic drivers on. But back to that dark alley where images of wanton, random gang violence fill your head, largely because you've been watching too much local television news and listening to Rear-Entry Campbell and John van Dongen's tough words on gang violence.

A shadowy figure approaches through the murky gloom. Your heart races like a hamster on a treadmill. He reaches into his jacket, rummages around in there, grabs something, pulls it out. Your heart races like a hamster on a treadmill... in a laboratory testing the effects of speed on treadmilling hamsters. He whips out, (a) a gun, or (b) a bag of B.C. Bud.

Think carefully before answering the next question. Which of these possibilities strikes more fear into your little hamster heart? A or B?

It takes a particularly twisted kind of hamster, er, person to answer B. In fact, the only person in the world I can imagine might think the pot was a more potent weapon is the talking head from the south side of the Canada/U.S. border - maybe U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Sullivan; it really doesn't matter - who attributed the increasing drug-related violence on both sides of the border to B.C. Bud instead of the tsunami of weapons flooding in from where? From the USofA, silly; Home of Bear Arms.

In the U.S., if you're caught with a small bag of pot your chances of doing hard time - prison, not county lockup - approaches 100 per cent. If you're caught with a fully-loaded assault rifle, the authorities might ask you to produce a hunting license, depending on where you are and what's in season. Woodchucks and other varmints you can plink at will, though even puking out 15 bullets per second is unlikely to have any real effect on their population.

On this side of the border, if you're caught with a small bag of B.C. Bud - unofficial 2010 Olympic Mascot - it'll probably be confiscated and quite possibly shared back at the station when the boys go off duty. At least as long as they don't find a loaded stapler when they pat you down.

But if you're caught with an unlicensed, single-shot, .22 calibre rifle, you'll be taken down by SWAT teams from at least three adjoining townships, do hard time and have to go to Nice School to relearn how to be a good Canadian. And if you try to pull the old, "I'm just shooting gophers before they destroy my garden" nonsense, you'll also have PETAphiles from at least three adjoining townships picketing your home and place of work, you heartless bastard.

Caught with a fully-loaded assault weapon? Unless you're wearing a Canadian Forces uniform, soldier, you've got some serious 'splainin' to do.

In this post-ironic age, there doesn't appear to be anyone in the U.S. who seems to appreciate the missing link in the drugs-violence cycle. U.S. law enforcement agencies of all stripes, federal agents, congresspeople, governors, mayors, cabinet secretaries and even The Anointed One, The Obama, are getting their knickers in a knot about "drug violence" spilling across the border from Mexico into the border states, notably Arizona. They're also perpetually knicker-knotted about Canada's "soft" drug laws and the flow of B.C. Bud into the northwest states.

What they seem not at all to be worked up about is their own role as weapons supplier to the people perpetrating the violence. Mexico is a major interstate highway for drugs from South America to the insatiable U.S. market. Horticulturally-gifted growers from British Columbia continue to generously help people in Washington, Oregon and California deal with the heartache of foreclosure. What do both countries get in return? Abuse and guns.

It's harder to legally buy a gun in Canada than it is to find an honest politician. The paperwork alone makes preparing your own taxes seem like a walk in the park. And we're not talking about a handgun, which is virtually impossible to legally buy in the Great White North. We're talking about hunting rifles with no automatic firing capabilities and tiny ammo clips.

I don't know what the requirements are in Mexico to legally buy guns. It's always struck me as a machete-wielding kind of place. I'm pretty sure it takes more than walking into the local Mercado though.

In the States, by contrast, you can walk into any Wal Mart and walk out with a loaf of bread, a jug of milk, a small arsenal of assault rifles and enough ammo to reduce enrollment at your local high school to the point where they can hold the senior prom in a phone booth. And is anybody up in - excuse me - arms about it? Hell yes, pilgrim. The NRA and its rabid gun lobby is. Or at least they're up in arms about anyone trying to make buying and owning assault rifles harder. So much so that they've co-opted enough Dems in congress to beat back Attorney General Eric Holder's call to eventually restore the federal ban on assault weapons before it even got off the ground. More guns; fewer cross default swaps. Shoot, baby, shoot.

Mexico's fed up and getting a bit testy about this unfair cross-border exchange. Canada's far too polite to get testy. The U.S. is telling Mexico it has a drug and violence problem and is massing federal agents along the border because it's spilling over. The Mexican government is saying the drug problem stems from the demand for drugs in the U.S. and the ever-growing supply of arms crossing into Mexico illegally. The U.S. wants to wage war on drugs but won't acknowledge its role as arms pimp to the world.

The situation on this side of the border is the same, only smaller, and mostly being played out in English, Hindi and Cantonese.

A long time ago, on the only interstate bus trip I've ever taken, I got off to stretch my legs in, as I recall, Oklahoma City. A short distance from the bus station - by law in the "wrong" side of town - a twitchy guy hustled me into an alley. He was pressuring me into giving him money in exchange for a few moments of pleasure with his woman. He was persistent. I was broke. He was getting pissed.

I reached into my shirt pocket and pulled out a pathetic little joint. "Brother," I said, "why don't we share this and talk it over?" We did. And became, well, if not friends, at least a little silly.

It wasn't as cinematic as whipping out a gun and going all Dirty Harry on him, but neither of us got hurt.

We know now what happens in NAFTAworld with legalized guns and criminalized drugs. It ain't pretty. Pity we can't be grown up enough to try it the other way around.


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