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Pharm127- Professional Communication Skills in Pharmacy Practice

Professor Elaine Lillie


Bilal Chaudhry 2078037
Word Count: 797 (minus citation numbers)
Marijuana Decriminalization, A Step In The Right Direction
To toke or not to toke, that is the question. With the election of the
conservative government in 2006, Canada is experiencing an unprecedented
crack down on drug use. Drug related arrests have jumped 41%, with the
majority of these being over marijuana use and possession [1]. Although a
clear majority of Canadians support decriminalization, millions of dollars and
thousands of police hours continue to be wasted on enforcing Canadas antimarijuana policy. The debate over decriminalization is a long and
complicated one, so lets start at the beginning.
In 1923, with an amendment to the Narcotics Drug Act, marijuana
officially became illegal in Canada [2]. In the same year, parliament passed
the Chinese Exclusion Act, effectively banning Chinese immigration to
Canada. The two event are more closely related than they might appear.
From the very beginning, Canadian drug policy has been closely tied to
racism. Ethnic minorities, particularly the Chinese, were accused of peddling
drugs to white youth, thereby corrupting them and turning them into lunatics
and murderers. At the turn of the century, anti-Chinese sentiment was
rampant, Chinese children were segregated in schools, and anti-Chinese riots
were not uncommon, particularly in B.C. As a direct result of the fallout from
one such riot in Vancouver, Canadas first ever anti-drug law was passed in

1908 [3]. Similarly, in the United States, a flood of cheap Mexican farm
labour lead to resentment and outright hostility by white workers. Marijuana
use, popular amongst the Mexican workers, came to be vilified, giving birth
to a war on marijuana that would eventually spread north to Canada. A wave
of anti-drug hysteria swept across Canada in the 1920s, fuelled by the
publication of magazine articles which decried marijuana as the choice
poison of dark skinned killers threatening to destroy the rational white mind
[4]. This was the context in which marijuana came to be criminalized.
Decades of moral progress have made such bigoted views seem repugnant
to most Canadians. The Chinese exclusion act was repealed in 1948, with
parliament issuing a formal apology in 2006. In a recent survey, nearly 60%
of Canadians agreed that the criminalization of marijuana should follow suit
[5].
Fast forward to 2015, and the costs of marijuana criminalization are
high. From 2006-2012, 400,000 Canadians were arrested for marijuana
related offenses [6]. Thats 400,000 Canadians given criminal records and
deprived of future opportunities. Such offenses account for nearly 70% of all
drug arrests in Canada, and over half of all marijuana arrests are for the
simple act of possession [7]. The cost of enforcing Canadas marijuana policy
amounts to over 300 million dollars annually and thousands of police hours
[8]. This has proven to be a massive waste of taxpayer funded resources;
despite the arrests, marijuana use amongst Canadian youth remains higher
than in any other developed country [9]. Perhaps the greatest cost of such

policies are our core Canadian values of fairness and freedom since those
arrested have been, for the most part, consenting adults who are being
deprived of the freedom to choose what they can and cannot put into their
bodies. Had they been alcohol or tobacco users, they would not have been
arrested. A better approach is sorely needed.
Decriminalization is the first step in creating a regulated market. Such
a market would ensure product safety and limit access to at risk populations.
Currently, there are no quality controls on the sale of marijuana, putting
users at risk of contact with harmful contaminants and fungi. A regulated
market would allow for greater oversight thus decreasing risk to users. It
would also take money out of the hands of dealers and gangs, reducing
crime and drug related violence. Taxing marijuana in a manner similar to
alcohol and tobacco can be a valuable source of government revenues that
can be used to fund rehabilitation programs for addicts and education
campaigns to increase public awareness on the risks of drug abuse. A
common objection given against decriminalization is that it would increase
drug use, with marijuana acting as a gateway to more harmful drugs. This
isnt necessarily true. Even with its illegal status, marijuana use remains
higher in Canada than in countries with more lax cannabis policies such as
Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands [10]. Criminalization does not lead to
lower levels of use. Regulation, education, and restricted access do. Years of
education, market regulation, and restricted access to minors has halved the
rate of cigarette consumption in Canada from 30% in 1990 to 15% in 2012

[11]. Theres no reason to believe similar results cant be achieved with


marijuana use.
Canadians will continue to use marijuana, regardless of legislation.
Wouldnt we prefer that they get their pot in a regulated and controlled
environment where they can be educated about the dangers of drug abuse
rather than from a dealer in some back alley?

Works Cited
[1] MacQueen, K. Why its time to legalize marijuana. MacLeans, June 10
2013.
http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/why-its-time-to-legalize-marijuana/
Accessed March 2, 2015
[2] Schwartz D. Marijuana was criminalized in 1923, but why? CBC News,
May 3, 2014
http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/marijuana-was-criminalized-in-1923-but-why1.2630436
Accessed March 2, 2015
[3] Carstairs, C. Hop heads and hypes, drug use, regulation and resistance in
Canada, 1920-1961. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto press; 2000
[4] Knight, M.M. Tripping with Allah. Berkley, CA: Soft Skull Press; 2013
[5]-[10] MacQueen, K. Why its time to legalize marijuana. MacLeans, June
10 2013.

[11] Reid JL, Hammond D, Rynard VL, Burkhalter R. Tobacco Use in Canada:
Patterns and Trends, 2014 Edition. Waterloo, ON: Propel Centre for Population
Health Impact, University of Waterloo; 2014.