Raise the white flag on the ‘War on drugs’

The Harper government should pay attention to poll showing that 79 per cent of British Columbians do not support keeping the current marijuana laws

The Harper government should pay attention to last week’s Angus Reid poll showing that 79 per cent of British Columbians do not support keeping the current marijuana laws and that 81 per cent of them are concerned about increasing gang violence in B.C.

Given the federal government’s blind determination to bring in tougher drug laws, more jails, and more prosecutions, they need a reality check that the causes of violent drug crimes are their outdated prohibition drug laws.

To defeat crime, legalize and regulate the personal use of marijuana.

The poll was commissioned by Stop the Violence BC, a coalition of past and present law enforcement officials, and public health, legal and academic experts concerned about the links between cannabis prohibition and the growth of violent, organized crime. Their goal is to engage people in discussions to develop new marijuana-related policies.

“The public is ahead of politicians in understanding that prohibition isn’t working,” said Evan Wood, director, Urban Health Research Initiative, BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, and a professor in UBC’s Department of Medicine. “Cannabis is more available than cigarettes and alcohol and, according to the Fraser Institute, the illegal trade is worth about $7 billion.”

Control of that lucrative trade is fought on our streets in gang style turf wars putting everyone at risk. And just about everyone is fed up with it.

Eighty-seven per cent of British Columbians attribute gang violence to drug trafficking groups fighting over profits. Sixty-nine per cent state that arresting marijuana producers and sellers is ineffective and that B.C. would be better off regulating and taxing marijuana use. More than 75 per cent reject the idea that possession should lead to a criminal record.

In the U.S., a Gallup poll this month showed more than 50 per cent of Americans support legalizing marijuana use. Fourteen states have decriminalized its personal use.

“These results reveal that British Columbians are clearly dissatisfied with the status quo and recognize the unintended harmful consequences of marijuana prohibition in terms of promoting organized crime and violence,” said Mario Canseco, vice president, Angus Reid Public Opinion. “The majority of British Columbians are ready for new regulations related to marijuana use and possession, and reject the notion that tough-on-crime measures will be effective.”

Support for Stop the Violence BC has attracted some heavyweights in law enforcement and the judicial system, none the least is Vince Cain, retired RCMP Chief Superintendent and former chief coroner for B.C.

“In B.C. organized crime is reaping billions from the illegal marijuana industry and increasingly consolidating its hold through violence,” said Cain. “Stiffer sanctions will not reverse these trends, but legally regulating marijuana in B.C. would eliminate a primary source of revenue for these criminal groups, reduce gang violence, and generate tax revenue.”

According to the organization’s report Breaking the Silence, an estimated $2.5 trillion have been spent on the ‘war on drugs’ in North America in the last 40 years, yet marijuana is as readily available today as ever. The price has decreased, the potency has increased and there are well over 430,000 users. By every yardstick, marijuana prohibition has failed to achieve any of its objectives.

“Marijuana prohibition might be well intentioned, but my personal opinion is that it has failed in B.C. and around the world,” said David Bratzer, a Victoria-based police officer. “Prohibition has created a huge and violent criminal enterprise that is becoming more dangerous with each passing day, and I strongly support controlled marijuana legalization as an effective way to fight crime and protect our communities.”

Stop the Violence BC is holding a public forum Nov. 10 at SFU Woodward’s Cinema, 149 West Hastings, Vancouver at 7 pm. Register at www.stoptheviolencebc.org

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