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A young marijuana plant thriving in the basement of a grow operation. (Darryl James/ The Globe and Mail/Darryl James/ The Globe and Mail)
A young marijuana plant thriving in the basement of a grow operation. (Darryl James/ The Globe and Mail/Darryl James/ The Globe and Mail)

GARY MASON

Legalize weed, yes, but the demon's in the details Add to ...

Marijuana will be legal in Canada one day. It may not be for eons – or at least until the federal Liberals or New Democrats gain power, which could be longer than eons. But it’s inevitable.

And it’s probably not surprising that the biggest push for the legalization and regulation of marijuana is coming from British Columbia, where pot plants are as common as the dandelion.

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In Vancouver, you can smell pot just about anywhere you go. You’ll be walking past the downtown Vancouver Art Gallery and suddenly be hit with a familiar odour that puts knowing smirks on the faces of those who encounter it. Most cops turn a blind eye to those blowing a stick. If they’d their druthers, they’d pick a troublemaker high on grass over one who’d downed a mickey of vodka any day.

If those who had gathered downtown for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final last June had all been stoned and not smashed on alcohol, the riot would never have happened. Hours after the game, baked-out fans would have been sitting on the ground, legs folded, still talking about what a bummer it was the Canucks lost.

This week, four former B.C. attorneys-general lent their voices to the campaign to legalize marijuana. They followed in the wake of Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and three of his predecessors, all of who called for the same thing. Before them, it was an esteemed group of B.C. doctors specializing in drug policy. National associations representing police chiefs, doctors and lawyers have also called for the decriminalization of marijuana.

There’s no shortage of people with deep and distinct knowledge of this issue who’ve witnessed the unmitigated failure of our country’s drug laws and called for a change.

Now, there’re probably many people across Canada, especially in provinces such as Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, who don’t understand the preoccupation that many people living in Vancouver have with this issue. In some quarters, I’m sure, it’s dismissed as the whimsical obsession of those in Lotusland.

Yes, the same ones living amid a gang war that’s arrived, in some cases, at their front door. Fact is, there isn’t a jurisdiction in the country that can relate to the type of gang violence the drug trade generates on the West Coast.

The federal government believes the answer is to get tougher on criminals. So at the same time as the chorus of those calling for the legalization and regulation of marijuana rises, the Conservatives are proposing we go in precisely the opposite direction, with harsher sentences for drug offences.

That will do nothing to end the violence on the streets of Vancouver and only clog up an already overburdened court system with people who shouldn’t be there.

Of course, it’s easy to say legalize without considering the public policy ramifications. That’s effectively what the federal Liberals did at their last convention. It’s fine for four former attorneys-general to demand that we begin regulating the sale of marijuana without clearly setting out how it might work.

There’s also the not-so-small question of the impact it would have on Canada-U.S. relations and the many practical considerations that flow from it. It doesn’t take a wild imagination to conjure up the image of border custom agents spending 15 minutes per car as their dogs sniff for some of that dreaded Canadian weed. Is that a price we’d be prepared to pay?

How would you regulate the production and sale of marijuana? Would it be sold commercially? What would be the age limit for consumption? What, if anything, could be done to prevent Canada from becoming a marijuana black market for the U.S.?

Although polls suggest Canadians support the idea of legalizing marijuana in general, they’ll want to see a detailed plan before backing the idea unreservedly. That’s where the work needs to be done now by drug reform proponents. There’s plenty of time to do it – the Conservatives will be in power for a while yet.

Follow on Twitter: @garymasonglobe

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