The recent legalization of marijuana by the states of Colorado and Washington shows that attitudes towards the drug have been changing. A Canadian poll recently cited in the Toronto Star revealed that 65 per cent of Canadians support either legalization and taxation of the drug or decriminalizing it in small amounts. These aren’t just the votes belonging to your campus college liberal meme or peacenik hippie. As a whole, Canada is tuning into the economic and societal benefits of legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana.
The Huffington Post recently reported on a study that found that, between 2010 and 2011, California experienced a 20 per cent decrease in juvenile crime, bringing underage crime to its lowest level since record keeping began in 1954. According to the study, this improvement can be attributed to the punishment for possessing a small amount of marijuana being reduced from a misdemeanour to an infraction, which generally garners only a fine or a ticket. This incredible reduction in youth being sentenced and jailed for possession has helped them to stay out of the criminal justice system and pursue more positive lifestyle choices. The effect of those more positive lifestyles is clear: serious youth crime in California has decreased faster than in the rest of the nation.
The Vancouver Sun also recently cited a study that found that 75 per cent of B.C. respondents favour taxation and regulation of marijuana possession as opposed to prosecuting marijuana users. Instead of adopting this approach, the Conservative party opts for mandatory prison sentences for non-violent marijuana offences. Even so, prohibition has been an epic failure. Despite marijuana’s illegality and the countless dollars spent on ineffective or incomplete law enforcement, British Columbians still buy, in total, about half a billion dollars’ worth of pot per year, according to a study published by University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University researchers.
Instead of solving the problems that the war on drugs set out to fix, government policy has created new ones. For example, one of the most prominent issues in B.C. is that various gangs are competing in the marijuana market, each seeking to gain full control over this immensely profitable plant. Instead of taking the money and power out of the hands of these gangs, the government chooses not to tax and regulate marijuana. Hey, why not keep the cash flowing to the gangsters?
A coalition called Stop the Violence B.C. states that legalizing and regulating marijuana would reduce gang violence and convert criminal profits into tax revenue for the government. According to an Angus Reid poll published in 2011, 87 per cent of B.C. residents think that gang violence is linked to organized crime control of the marijuana trade.
Data from Washington, a state that has roughly the same number of pot smokers as B.C., suggests the state could bring in $2.5 billion in taxes from the marijuana industry over five years.
The Conservatives are making a mistake by not addressing this issue. They should take a page from some U.S. states’ book and reform Canada’s drug policies.