COLUMN: Legalization argument makes sense

Four former B.C. Attorneys General added their voices last week to the group of people calling for legalization of marijuana.

Four former B.C. Attorneys General added their voices last week to the group of people calling for legalization of marijuana.

A letter signed by Colin Gabelmann, Ujjal Dosanjh, Graeme Bowbrick and Geoff Plant calls on Premier Christy Clark and provincial NDP leader Adrian Dix to “encourage the federal government to abandon mandatory minimum sentences for minor and non-violent marijuana-related offences and instead to pursue a taxation and regulation strategy to better protect community health and safety while at the same time undermining gang profits.”

The war against the marijuana industry was lost years ago and the evidence is in massive profits for organized crime, widespread gang violence, easy access to illegal cannabis for our youth, reduced community safety and significant (and escalating) costs to taxpayers, says the letter.

I agree, and coming from politicians charged with overseeing the province’s justice system between 1991 to 2005, I think this issue deserves a serious look.

A regulated cannabis market would allow the government to tax the product and put the money back into programs that benefit citizens, instead of all that money lining the pockets of those selling the drug illegally.

Stop the Violence B.C., a coalition of law enforcement officials, legal experts, public health officials and academic experts calling for marijuana to be governed by a strict regulatory public health framework aimed at limiting use, states that such a move would reduce gang-related violence in B.C. because it removes the “cannabis cash cow” for organized crime.

A report on the group’s website states that although the country has seen a 70-per cent increase in the number of cannabis-related arrests each year (39,000 in 1990 to more than 65,000 in 2009), this increase has not made marijuana less available to teenagers and young adults in B.C. – the 2009 Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey found that 27 per cent of youth aged 15-24 admitted to using cannabis at least once in the previous year.

Regulating marijuana could allow Ottawa to put age restrictions in place and develop policies aimed at limiting use.

It could also mean safer product.

In my high school days, I had a friend who smoked what was sold to her as marijuana only to discover it had been laced with speed.

I don’t think making it legal will mean a sudden bump in the use of the drug; people are doing it anyway right now for a variety of reasons from recreational to medicinal.

Another area legalization would have a major impact is in reducing the backlog in the court systems, which is getting worse and worse.

In B.C. last year, 109 youth and adult criminal cases were stayed due to unreasonable delay, compared with 56 in 2010 and 44 in 2009. As of Dec. 31, people were waiting eight months for the next available date for a half-day adult criminal case trial (from the date a trial is ordered, not from the person’s first appearance in court) and 16 months for the next available trial date for a two-day child protection or family trial (from the first appearance date).

I’m not sure how much court time would be freed up by legalization of marijuana, but justice is expensive – the province estimates adding a new judge costs $1.4 million when you factor in all the other court staff needed to run a courtroom – so any reduction is welcome.

Legalization will bring in another revenue stream, save us money in court time for dealing with marijuana-related crimes, and allow government to enact regulatory tools to reduce and control usage, similar to the way alcohol and tobacco are handled now.

It makes more sense to me than throwing people in jail for longer periods of time for producing or possessing marijuana for the purposes of trafficking, as the Tory government wants to do.

Nanaimo News Bulletin