Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

The legalization discussion across the border

Post by Brian O'Neill on Dec. 11, 2011 at 8:56 pm with 13 Comments »
January 1, 2012 9:39 am
Mounties collect evidence/ AP

When I walk through the streets of Vancouver, B.C., where the skyscrapers are more numerous, the waterfront more inviting and the mountains appear to rise right above me, it is easy to imagine that I am wandering the landscape of an amped up, Super-Tacoma. Then I’ll have a chat with one of my brethren in Canadian law enforcement and realize that, despite the visual similarities (mountains, water, umm… marijuana), our American society holds several distinctions from that which exists in the Great White North.

Starting with the cops. Canadian police, I have observed, have less oversight and more authority than their U.S. counterparts. A cop in Canada requires no reason to pull your car over to the side of the road for “an inspection”, a point which allows for routine DUI checkpoints (a constitutional issue in the U.S.). Canada’s gun control laws, though lax by European standards, are strict enough to keep many NRA members from so much as venturing across the border.

Then there is drug enforcement.  I happened to discuss this with an old friend from the Vancouver Police Department, and our conversation was an eye-opener.

It began, as many cop conversations do, with a story. In this instance I was describing my surveillance and subsequent arrest of a heroin dealer and his customer in a part of town infamous for this type of trade. The only part of this story that stood out from a hundred other similar incidents was that this particular dealer had nine felony points (the state point system maxed out at nine for sentencing purposes). In this case the aging junkie I had arrested, who was no more than an errand boy for the dealer hidden inside a homeless shelter, was looking at a potential twelve year sentence for handing over a single piece of heroin.

He reflected on this a moment before replying, “When I see a junkie shooting up on the street I usually say, ‘C’mon, take it inside!’”

That pretty much summed up the Canadian view on narcotics enforcement. Since Canada spends significantly less per capita on incarceration than the U.S., it is no surprise that its sentencing guidelines for drug-related crimes are far more lax than our own. This in turn seems to have placed narcotics enforcement low on the priority scale.

Canadians, at least in the Vancouver area, are fairly open-minded on the topic. In fact, the city itself is currently struggling with the issue of marijuana legalization, much like our own state legislature. There are, however, some basic differences between the discussions here and north of the border. In keeping with Canadian culture, the tone of the conversation is relatively civil; the support also comes from an unlikely source – local politicians.

The Vancouver Sun recently reported that four former Vancouver mayors are fully supportive of marijuana legalization. Their view is that gangs and organized crime leaders have won the War on Drugs, and that legalization should stop violence and raise tax money. Those are very questionable statements, but nevertheless the discussion has reached a local level where big change could well be imminent.

Just as there are cultural differences on this issue, there is also a familiar political theme: the position of the federal government. Much like our own Republican Party, the Conservative Party of Canada (currently in power) is very much against legalized marijuana. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s pledge to prevent legalized marijuana is a roadblock similar in size and shape to the one currently residing in Washington, D.C.

There may be some lessons to learn here. The manner in which people in this beautiful foreign (but familiar) city on our northern border deal with a similar issue may provide a solid roadmap for our own struggles. At the very least we could pay attention and attempt to learn from their mistakes.

Leave a comment Comments → 13
  1. If the myth, that marijuana is anything like herion, cocaine, or other opiates, were overcome, it would elimate a lot of confusion.

  2. And yet we have the 2.5 million dollar alcoholic. Go to a GED graduation at TCC. See and hear the damage that drugs and alcohol cause.

    Drugs and alcohol have huge social costs.

  3. Chippert says:

    Yes, drugs and alcohol do have serious social costs. A large part of that comes from the criminalization of drugs and the acceptance that alcohol is a fun thing to do. We can, and should do much more to deal with these issues. The first step would be the decriminalization of marijuana (but not other drugs) and the second would be an educational and law campaign to change public opinions to support that public intoxication from any substance is not cool, is not adult and is to be ridiculed and castigated instead of admired, laughed at, or ignored. While we are at it, we should take a close look at the criminalization of prostitution. It may indeed the the “world’s oldest profession” so why can we not look back over thousands of years of experience and realize that we can’t control it no matter how much we try, so why not recognize it and deal with it in a way to make it safe for society (and earn a bit of cash for our governmental coffers at the same time)?

  4. Ummmm….Brian, the democrats have been in power for the past 5+ years. They have had ample opportunity to change Marijuana’s status from a schedule 1 narcotic to at the very least a drug that has medical benefits. To lump all of Pot’s issues on the GOP is narrow minded. In fact, our last three presidents have admitted to drug use in their past, yet weed possession still remains a federal crime. In fact, if legalizing pot was such a great idea, why hasn’t the current administration placed enforcement on the back burner and told the DEA to go do something else instead of hassling medicinal pot dispensaries?

    I think Pot should be legalized, and taxed/regulated, but it needs to be done at the federal level, and it’s across party lines. To point fingers at one party is wrong.

  5. Brian O'Neill says:

    Gandalf- You make a valid point. Most of the congressional remarks on the topic of legalized marijuana which I have either heard or read I can be attributed to Republicans, but there is little doubt that many Democrats are also against legalization. Probably has something to do with getting reelected, but then I might be cynical.

  6. notSpicoli says:

    “The manner in which people in this beautiful foreign city on our northern border deal with a similar issue may provide a solid roadmap for our own struggles. At the very least we could pay attention and attempt to learn from their mistakes.”

    We can learn from our own past mistakes as well. The lessons learned from alcohol prohibition apply equally to marijuana without anywhere near equality of social costs for use. The costs of marijuana prohibition far outweigh the costs of marijuana use itself by any measure.

    And with that in mind, the more complete picture would be to look to the foreign country on our southern border to see what prohibition has wrought.

    This article fails to mention that we have our own roadmap in the state– a viable legislative initiative initiative, I-502, which is looking likely qualify.

    New Approach Washington, the sponsors of I-502, is a group of accomplished professionals including judges, lawyers, and prosecutors, a lawmaker, two physicians, a chemical addiction specialist, and Rick Steves. They have raised substantial funds for the campaign. It is gathering widespread support because it is an anti-prohibition, harm reduction measure. It seeks to regulate the huge, existent, marijuana industry.

    While legalizing marijuana will not eliminate the problem of drug addiction, it will allow us to use our limited resources to best advantage by concentrating on the greatest threats to public and personal safety. We may not want to incarcerate junkies, but we certainly don’t want to ignore them, either.

    Canada, the United States, and other nations are seeking to reform their marijuana laws. For example, recently Switzerland has allowed each citizen to grow four plants. All are members of the same movement, all have recognized that the status quo of marijuana prohibition is not working and causing harm. In this reform struggle, we are learning from each other.

  7. State laws do not trump federal law. Have to change the federal laws first.

    BTW, why did prop 19 fail in california? Wasn’t because of the GOP, or the right. It was defeated because the pot growers stood to lose massive amounts of cash. I’m afraid the same thing will happen here, regardless of the fact that attempting to legalize a substance contrary to federal law is rather pointless.

  8. notSpicoli says:

    Gandalf, please see the FAQ’s, “How does I-502 relate to federal law? Federal Law Factsheet” at the New Approach Washington website.

    The drafters of I-502 are well versed in the law, the campaign director is Allison Holcomb from the ACLU, and they have plenty of legal muscle.

    You are right that Prop 19 lost many votes due to entrenched business interests. This is cause for even greater concern and another compelling argument for regulation. That a block of voters engaged in an illegal enterprise can muster support to maintain it’s illegality–understanding that it is prohibition that determines the cost of marijuana–is troubling.

    It’s understandable. I can’t imagine Al Capone leading a campaign to repeal alcohol prohibition.

    Regulation and taxation is not a favor being extended to the marijuana industry. It is a demand. Prohibition hasn’t worked. It is an expensive, dangerous folly. It is past time to recognize that and to treat this huge industry like any other.

  9. Taxation and regulation only work if you’re able to control quality, distribution and manufacturing. Not possible with pot. Anyone can grow it, anywhere in the country. It doesn’t require massive amounts of equipment, and a little goes a long way. In other words, it would be the same issues as moonshine, without any of the drawbacks of it’s manufacturing, quality, and distribution.

  10. BlaineCGarver says:

    I’m not sure which Republicians you are talking about, at least in this state. With the un-Godly mess the ‘Crats have made of everything else, is it any surprise that they cannot legalize a basicly benign substance.

  11. Earth_watch says:

    So, why don’t the Republicans legalize it, then?

  12. BlaineCGarver says:

    Earth_watch…pay attention…..R’s can’t get doodly done in this state. Nationaly, it’s Federal Code.

  13. Earth_watch says:

    All the repubs have done is block the democrats. Both parties are a disappointment.

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