Skip to main content

Well, British Columbia, it looks like you'll be hiding your joints for a while yet. In the foreseeable future, otherwise law-abiding citizens will be forced to huddle around basement bongs, away from the prying eyes of the police. Suburban moms and dads will continue lurking in the backyard around their portable vapourizers, having told their kids that they're "just taking the dog for a walk."

A campaign to begin the process of decriminalizing pot in B.C. has come up short. For the past three months, more than 4,000 volunteer canvassers of the Sensible BC campaign have been gathering signatures designed to prompt a referendum on decriminalization (specifically, by getting B.C. police to stop charging for simple possession). They needed to collect the signatures of 10 per cent of voters in each of the province's 85 ridings by the end of Monday to launch a referendum. They have failed, despite collecting about 200,000 names to date.

"The fact is that we spend $10-million a year to charge people with simple possession," Sensible BC's Tammy Lea Meyer told me in a telephone interview. Marijuana production "is a $7-billion-a-year industry in B.C. that's currently in the hands of criminals. That's not a sensible approach to drug policy."

Who's afraid of the big, bad weed? We are, apparently. Forty-one years after the Le Dain commission recommended decriminalization in Canada (and a commission appointed by that noted hedonist Richard Nixon came to the same conclusion in the U.S.), our thinking about the management of pot has actually regressed. It's like we're trapped in a time machine where the only in-flight movie is Reefer Madness.

You might think of this as Reefer Madness 2.0. Somehow, Canada's official policy on pot has lurched out of step with expert opinion, global consensus about the disastrous "war on drugs" and the wisdom of rasta-hatted head-shop owners everywhere.

Consider that the states of Washington and Colorado recently moved to decriminalize pot possession, or that the Global Commission on Drug Policy wrote a letter, signed by such Cheeto-eating layabouts as Louise Arbour and Richard Branson, criticizing the Canadian government's "destructive, expensive and ineffective" efforts to step up its war on pot. You know you're in trouble when The Economist thinks your drug policies are backward, as the magazine argued last month under the headline "Uncool Canada."

About 9 per cent of Canadians admit to having smoked weed in the past year (or at least to having remembered doing it), but more than two-thirds believe it should be either decriminalized or outright legalized. And yet the issue has become lost in a wearying, endless political melodrama that does nothing to add to the debate: Toker Trudeau versus Ol' Poker Face Harper.

Maybe everything becomes politicized eventually, and every policy issue is reduced to a war for voters. But there's something particularly scare-mongering and screechy about the pot debate. Look at the anti-marijuana campaign ads the Tories used in the recent Brandon-Souris by-election: "A lawlessness that we can scarcely estimate has grown and is now flourishing, it exists in almost every city and hamlet in the country …"

Oh, whoops. That was actually from Reefer Madness. My bad! Here's the actual Conservative flyer sent to voters: "Justin Trudeau's Liberals do not have a plan to create jobs, but they do have a plan to legalize marijuana. … Their plan to legalize marijuana will make it more available to minors."

The party ran radio ads beginning with the sound of a school bell, followed by a concerned mom's voice wondering what this pot tsunami might bring. The message was clear: Your teenager will soon be taking Mary Jane to a dance called depravity.

If you think this nouveau prohibitionist talk doesn't have an effect, consider that the Sensible BC campaign reported some people wanting to sign the petition but afraid of the consequences. "There's a lot of people who would tell us they support what we're doing and they're behind us, but they don't want to sign because they're afraid they'll lose their job, they're afraid that they can't cross the border, they're afraid the RCMP will get this list," campaign organizer Dana Larsen told The Huffington Post.

That's right: People were afraid to sign a petition that might one day lead to a referendum that might or might not decriminalize pot. This does not strike me as the spirit of 2013.

But wait, I hear you saying. Are you high, Liz? Marijuana is a gateway drug. Alison Redford said so. To which I say, absolutely. Open that gate, and the next thing you know you're sucking back an extra-large Slurpee while watching your 10th episode of Futurama. It is indeed a bleak and soul-destroying world.

And no, I'm not high, although I might be shortly. If you see a middle-aged lady giggling madly on the street, looking for a speakeasy to dance in and a youth to debauch, don't worry. It's just me. Please don't alert the authorities.