Stop Hassling Marijuana Users

Maybe instead of photo-ID cards, licensed users of marijuana should wear something more visible. How about a sign saying, "Feed me. I'm a legal user of marijuana who could use a snack." Perhaps a hemp armband would work better - something that those of us who think marijuana laws are archaic and stupid could wear in solidarity.

On Tuesday, July 3, Health Canada announced that it would provide photo ID cards to users of medical marijuana. That way, they won't be hassled by police. The announcement also specified who will be issued the cards: people expected to die in twelve months; those with chronic medical conditions such as AIDS and multiple sclerosis; and those with serious medical conditions who can't get relief in any other way.

So let's get this straight. If morphine can help your pain, you won't get permission to use marijuana. Morphine is an addictive substance: marijuana is not. Doctors are permitted to prescribe hundreds of drugs that cause terrible side effects but not marijuana, whose worst side effect is to make you peckish.

This is progress of sorts. Before the Supreme Court ruling last year that Canadians who need marijuana for medical reasons have a legal right to it, sick people had to apply to the minister of health for permission to use it. This put medical-marijuana users in the same category as refugees: when the latter are refused asylum, they seek special permission from the minister of immigration.

Everyone agrees that marijuana is relatively harmless as drugs go. It is less harmful than either alcohol or cigarettes. No one dies from marijuana use. Most Canadians now agree that marijuana should be decriminalized. A parliamentary committee is studying the options and the justice minister says she is open to the possibility.

There is no political or medical reason not to decriminalize marijuana: there are compelling social reasons to do it. This week, I heard the story of a 14-year-old who was arrested because he and his friends were smoking dope in the schoolyard. These kids were hanging out in the schoolyard because extra curricular activities have been mostly eliminated in Ontario schools due to the ongoing war of the government against the teachers' unions.

Now I'm not saying that smoking dope in the schoolyard is a good thing. But surely his parents, not by police, should mete out punishment. A couple of weeks later, he was playing basketball with his friends after dark in a city park. Neighbours who didn't like having teenage boys there after dark called the police. Since playing basketball after dark is not yet a criminal offence, the police questioned the boys about past criminal behaviour. "Have you ever been arrested," they asked.

Our young man had to answer yes, and was again taken down to the station. His mother told me the story. Here is a young man who up until now has been doing very well in school and in life. He was captain of his school's basketball team and doing well academically. Because of a combination of the deterioration of the school system and the marijuana laws, he is now part of the youth crime statistics. Even if the young man's plight does not arouse your sympathy, think of the tax dollars that will be spent prosecuting him.

Other than the simple fact that post doesn't harm society in any way, decriminalizing marijuana makes sense because the present laws are so unfairly applied. Most of the people convicted of marijuana offences are young men being rousted by police for something else.

It seems to me that the only reason the federal government does not move to decriminalize marijuana is that it will infuriate the Americans, who continue their phoney war on drugs and insist that every other country in the world cooperate. Isn't it about time we stood up to the Americans on something?

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