Law enforcement officials, academics and government officials gathered in Ottawa this week to discuss how to keep Canadian communities safe at a time when policing costs are soaring. Canada’s failed marijuana policies must be part of this discussion.
Last year, we made public our support for the taxation and regulation of adult cannabis use, joining a growing number of prominent voices across the country urging changes to marijuana policy. The proof that cannabis prohibition has failed is irrefutable. We see the evidence on our streets, in our communities and on the nightly news – gang-related homicides and shootings, innocent victims caught in the crossfire, grow-op busts and violent grow-op thefts.
Under marijuana prohibition, violent criminals are provided a protected market that enables them to target our youth and grow rich while vast resources are directed to ineffective law enforcement tactics. Meanwhile, Canada’s criminal justice system is overextended and in desperate need of repair.
As four former attorneys-general of British Columbia, we were the province’s chief prosecutors and held responsibility for overseeing the criminal justice system. We know the burden imposed on B.C.’s policing and justice system by the enforcement of marijuana prohibition and the role that prohibition itself plays in driving organized crime and making criminals out of otherwise law-abiding citizens.
Recently, a study published in the International Journal of Drug Policy concluded that regulating BC’s cannabis market could likely provide government with billions of dollars in tax and licensing revenues over the next five years. These dollars are in addition to the enormous cost savings that could accrue from ending the futile cat and mouse game between marijuana users and the police.
The federal government has now enacted mandatory jail terms for growing as few as six marijuana plants. There will be massive provincial budget and expenditure implications from this bill and yet, our streets will be no safer. It is time for a complete rethink.
We don’t take our call for a new system of marijuana taxation and regulation lightly. We know that there are harms associated with cannabis use, like there are with alcohol and tobacco use. But we expect significant benefits from a change in policy. The loss of the massive illegal marijuana market in British Columbia would hobble gangsters involved in the marijuana trade while at the same time raising significant tax revenue. According to health experts such as the British Columbia Health Officers’ Council, a strictly regulated legal market that restricts sales to minors would also better protect young people from predatory drug dealers.
We are pleased to see that the debate over marijuana law reform is happening across the country. We recently wrote an open letter to party leaders in British Columbia, urging them to support Stop the Violence BC’s call to overturn prohibition and regulate marijuana. Stop the Violence BC is a coalition of law enforcement and leading public health and criminal justice experts who have joined forces to call for the taxation and regulation of marijuana as a strategy to better protect public health and safety. Several former B.C. mayors have joined the effort, and lent their voices to create a groundswell of influential opinion intended to persuade our elected leaders to demand change.
The public recognizes that cannabis prohibition has failed. A recent Angus Reid poll showed that approximately 75 per cent of B.C. respondents support the taxation and regulation of cannabis.
Now it is time to put ideology and politics aside in favour of a level-headed, evidence-based discussion about the failure of marijuana prohibition and the policy alternatives available to us. Provincial and municipal leaders across Canada must join, if not lead, the debate and demand change. Only then will we end the prohibition-fuelled cycle of crime, waste and violence.
Ujjal Dosanjh is a former premier of British Columbia (2000-01) and B.C. attorney general (1995-2000); Colin Gabelmann was attorney general of B.C. (1991–1995); Graeme Bowbrick was attorney general of B.C. (2000-2001); Geoff Plant was attorney general of B.C. (2001-2005)