The case for lawful, controlled pot

“Big Tobacco” would love to grab the billions of dollars that will flow from marijuana if its sale is made lawful across Canada.

“Big Tobacco” would love to grab the billions of dollars that will flow from marijuana if its sale is made general and  lawful across Canada.

But public health and the public treasury will arguably be in better shape if corporate industry is shut out and marijuana is carefully legalized, step by step, and made a government monopoly in Canada, as tobacco used to be in France and Spain.

I say “arguably” because there are hot-gospellers both for and against legalization, and wise decisions do seem more likely to occur if emotionally-based beliefs, and their supporting bundles of evidence, are held up to daylight.

When the shouting and banging of gavels quiets down, I believe the benefits of separating marijuana from nastier chemicals and placing pot under open public supply and control far outweighs disadvantages of any other possible policy choice.

In answer to objections, legalization campaigners can only say: Listen to everyone, take on the role of pathfinder for the world, build a consensus network, give the change a sufficiently long trial, don’t surrender to drug hysteria, watch for unintended consequences, and be ready to fine tune the action.

Few Canadians have heard of Altadis, a name that sounds like a distant star. For those who know about it, however, the name raises thoughts of lung cancer. Altadis is a multinational manufacturer and seller of cigarettes, tobacco and cigars.

My wife died of lung cancer. For this and other reasons, I have strong feelings about the subject.

I found out from friends that Peggy was still taking occasional puffs long after she said she had quit. Altadis played a part in causing the premature deaths of millions of nicotine-addicted people.

By 1971, France and Spain — inspired by the doctrine of the “free market” — had reached the final stage in the privatization of what used to be their nationally operated tobacco industries.

Privatization meant a strong though subtle drive to increase the sales of this death-drug and get new addicts hooked while denying or concealing tobacco’s fatal effects.

By the logic of the “free market,” this is a virtue, not a crime. Commercial corporate executives are pledged to boost sales and profits. It’s their duty to the shareholders.

The leaders of a publicly owned tobacco or marijuana operation have no such duty.

They may be enjoined to reduce sales and thereby stretch lifespans longer, while companion government offices raise compensatory revenues by taxing other chemicals and activities that are damaging yet popular. Activities such as stock-market and currency gambling, for example.

“Altadis was formed via a 1999 merger between Tabacalera, the former Spanish tobacco monopoly and SEITA, the former French tobacco monopoly,” Wikipedia reports. “The company was acquired by the British tobacco giant Imperial Tobacco in 2008.”

Hopefully there won’t be any takeover of legalized marijuana by an Imperial Tobacco and Marijuana Corporation.

Marijuana is a socially popular, low-hazard, sometimes medically helpful drug that lacks the extreme dangers of alcohol. Is it a gateway to hard drugs, a major cause of road crashes, or a cause of lung cancer? A fast look at the evidence suggests that the answer to all three questions is “no.”

The aroma of pot wafts up from millions of homes and party gatherings.

Forbidding its use, and filling jails with its growers and sellers, seems just as quirky, hazardous and self-defeating as the prohibition of alcohol was in the U.S.A. (and Canada briefly) long ago, when convivial drinkers filled speakeasies owned by gangsters, and referred to the forbidden beverage by such coy, joking terms as “panther sweat.”

—G.E. Mortimore is a Langford-based writer. Think About It runs every second week in the Gazette.


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