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Volume Ten, Number Two   March 2005

In Memorium

Tom Sandborn   

Tony Gordon, Brock Myrol, Leo Johnston, Peter Schiemann.  They only died in early March, these young Mounties shot while guarding a marijuana grow op in Alberta, and already the simple human grief that flows from any loss, but particularly the violent and untimely death of the young, is being corrupted by political opportunists on the right, eager to erect their own bully pulpit over the fresh graves.

Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan and Tory firebrand Randy White are only the highest profile figures in a media feeding frenzy of strident demands that this terrible tragedy be deepened by using it as an excuse to shore up the tottering structure of Canadian drug law, hammering in higher penalties and more stringent enforcement of existing pot laws. ( All of which ignores the fact that the alleged shooter, Jim Roszko, a convicted sex offender  and notorious gun toting, misanthropic  hermit in his small town Alberta home, fits the profile for  the kind of crazed  guy who takes his rifle up in the tower and starts shooting far better than he does the sort of person usually associated with growing pot. These were deaths far more connected to family dysfunction, madness and human anguish than to cannabis cultivation.) If White and McLellan  think that their  doomed and mindless suggestions for “:getting tough “  will do anything to make the young men and women we task with enforcing Canada’s drug laws safer, or the general public less likely to use cannabis, I’d like to get an ounce or two of what they’re smoking these days!

The folks over at Alcoholics Anonymous, who have some claim to understanding the dynamics of substance abuse, define madness as the repeated attempt to use a tactic that’s failed, in the doomed belief that if one just does the same thing over and over, perhaps harder, success will follow. It doesn’t work for the suffering alcoholic, and it doesn’t work in the realm of drug policy. Prohibition doesn’t work to reduce substance abuse, but it is a guaranteed way to create large criminal networks to meet the hungers the prohibitionists target. If cannabis were fully legalized ( not the half measure of decriminalization on offer from the current Liberal proposals) it would be less costly by far, and many smokers would grow their own. The urgent economic incentives that create the biker gang grow ops with their attendant guns and deadfall traps would be eased, and we would have taken a small  step toward national sanity.

But don’t hold your breath for such an outbreak of mental health in public policy, certainly not in the wake of the Alberta shootings, as each media outlet vies with its competitors to run  sentimental profiles of the fallen officers and supportive reports  on the baying hounds of law and order. We’re far more likely to see the Martin government back off even from the half-witted semi-reforms they currently endorse, and for the  law and order pack, with all its  simplemindedness,  to prevail. If this leads to a new campaign of severe enforcement of the existing pot laws, or the creation of new and more stringent prohibitions, we can expect exactly the results the alcohol prohibition experiment created in the last century- more  large, well armed criminal enterprises, more covert civil disobedience in the form of private drug use, and  more police and grower  deaths as everybody becomes more frightened  and trigger happy. Punitive, self righteous prohibitionists like White and McLellan are trying to send Canada on a bad drug trip, one straight back to the days of Al Capone and the others who profited mightily from the efforts of earlier prohibitions. We can only hope that Canadians can find the nerve and good sense to just say no to drug prohibition. Doing so would be a better memorial to the young men who died on that Alberta farm last week than anything currently being promoted by the new Puritans. 

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