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Saturday, December 03, 2005

Steve doesn't party

Stephen Harper's new drug strategy is coherent — I'll give it that much:

"A Conservative government will not reintroduce the Liberal plan to decriminalize the possession of marijuana, and we will never endorse the NDP idea of legalizing it outright," the Conservative leader said.

I'm all for outright legalization, but ambivalent about decriminalization, for reasons that Dan Gardner pointed out in a criminally overlooked National Post article from July 29, 2004:

I found another surprise in a draft Cabinet submission labelled "secret."

In a policy backgrounder on decriminalization, the Cabinet submission notes a phenomenon criminologists call "net widening," which essentially means that when punishments are reduced, enforcement typically goes up. That's because police officers often let minor offenders get away with a warning when they feel that a criminal charge and sentence is too severe under the circumstances. Reduce the punishment and fewer offenders are let go. The law's "net" is effectively cast wider.

Marijuana decriminalization is likely a classic net-widening policy. Most police officers, like most Canadians, think criminal charges for pot possession are excessive and not worth the associated administrative burden. So they often tell petty offenders to hand over the baggie and go home. Contrary to what ministers like to say in selling decriminalization, it is very unlikely that an otherwise innocent teenager caught with a joint will see the inside of a courtroom, and even more unlikely that he will be saddled with a criminal record. It happens, but it is rare.

Decriminalization, by contrast, would introduce a ticketing system that reduces the paperwork involved. And it would bring punishments more in line with what the average cop might accept as fair. Enforcement and punishment would soar.

This is no mere conjecture. It's precisely what happened in South Australia when marijuana was decriminalized in 1987.

The draft Cabinet submission notes all this, and concludes that decriminalization in Canada "will likely increase enforcement." Quite true. But the astonishing thing is that this conclusion is listed under "Advantages."

It's a revenue generator, in other words. Thanks, but no thanks. If youthful pot-related indiscretions were ruining thousands of Canadian lives then I might support decriminalization as a flawed stopgap measure, but as Gardner says, that argument is mostly a straw man. This is to say nothing of the inherent silliness of loosening restrictions on possession while simultaneously cracking down on production and distribution. Tom Utley fumed about a similar situation in the UK in Friday's Telegraph:

Nobody has ever managed to explain to me satisfactorily the reasoning behind David Blunkett's extraordinary decision, when he was home secretary last year, to relax the penalties for possessing cannabis, while at the very same moment announcing stiffer sentences for selling it.

Mr Blunkett's policy satisfied neither the liberal nor the father in me. It struck me as completely bonkers. By relaxing the penalties for possessing cannabis, he stimulated demand for the drug. But at the same time, he suppressed supply by cracking down harder than ever on the people who sold it. You don't need a degree in economics to understand that when you stimulate the demand for any commodity, while suppressing its supply, you drive up its price. That applies as much to cannabis and cocaine as it does to petrol and potatoes. And the higher the price of these drugs, of course, the more likely are their abusers to turn to crime in order to finance their habit.

Both Blunkett's plan and the Liberals' own decriminalization strategy were designed to appeal to both sides of people like Tom Utley. The liberal half is supposed to be satisfied because the state is removing its nose from some fairly harmless business, while the father half is supposed to be satisfied because he'll be god damned if some greasy biker is going to sell weed to his kids. Blunkett and Martin may be aware of the logical retardation from which their plans suffer, or they may not, but in foisting them on the public they rely on our liberal halves never comparing notes with our father halves and uncovering the big fat pile of nothing that underpins the two countries' drug strategies. In the same way, I doubt that Harper's announcement stems from an appreciation for sweet logic, but it's logical nonetheless, and I appreciate it on that level.

Of course, I hardly ever touch the stuff, so it's nice and easy for me to say.

(Cross-posted to Tart Cider.)

Posted by Chris Selley on December 3, 2005 | Permalink


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Politics from Monte Solberg. This is a classic; get the picture.... Stephen and Monte being hunted by the MSM/Librano$$$ >>

Monte's got a great sense of humor........

"The atmosphere on the media bus is a combination of cracking up, complaining, teasing each other, heart to hearts about kids, questions about party policy, and even the occassional song. Its a combination of field trip for big kids and a hunting expedition where the hunted (me, my party and Stephen), and the hunters (them), get together to dicuss how the hunt is going. The lion and lamb lay down together to talk about how to braise the lamb chops."
via newsbeat1.com

Posted by: maz2 | 2005-12-03 4:08:41 PM

I hadn't thought of this effect, Chris. Although I agree with you in all particulars. I guess all of this is even easier for me to say, since I never touch the stuff. At all.

This is the first absolutely depressing policy announcement from the Tories for me. The health policy was weak too, but this one was an utter disappointment.

Posted by: P.M. Jaworski | 2005-12-03 4:13:41 PM

The whole pot debate is 3/4 economics and 1/4 social conservatism. As your Post post points out -decriminalization is the only way the gov’t can get its hands on some of the weed trade while, at the same time saying, tut tut pot is bad.

As it stands now the gov’t gets very little of the THC trade - a little here , a little there from proceeds of crime -but what they get is hardly worth laundering through a friendly ad agency.

Now if they out right legalized it the market would collapse. It is after all a weed-very easy to grow. And if you think downloading is killing the music industry all you need here is a clipping or two from a buddy, a grow light and a corner of you living room. After that you can clone yourself a lifetime supply.

Yes there may be some pot cafes a la Amsterdam for those who couldn’t be bothered to grow there own. But they’re not going to sprout up like Mac’s stores. The Gov’t will get its hands on some GST and tobacco type tax.

So buddy is standing in the park blow’n a fatty. If he buys the joint legally the gov’t is getting maybe .35 cents GST ( less if Harper gets in ) and perhaps a buck or two exisce tax. If he grew it at home they get next to nothing. On the other hand, if Officer Friendly writes out a ticket to Buddy for $ 250.00 for possession and another $ 250.00 for doing it in publoic then that joint has become very lucrative for the gov’t.

Posted by: nbob | 2005-12-03 4:33:29 PM

I wish we could stop this foolishness and legalize it outright. But as the Tories have been reminding us lately, we have no national libertarian party to speak of.

Posted by: dr_dog | 2005-12-03 4:48:19 PM

Criminalization of an easy to grow plant which is consumed in its unprocessed form has been ineffective in every sense. It's an approach which has been a massive boon to organized crime, and a massive expense on the public purse. It's unfortunate to see Harper announcing his intention to step up this approach.

Dr-dog is right that Harper's social conservatism is at odds with any libertarian perspectives. On health care he has essentially been parroting the Liberal approach, and in fact promising to out-Liberal the Liberals by throwing more money at a failing system. On the GST front he is pursuing bad policy for electoral advantage, and now on the marijuana issue he is touting a regressive approach which goes against the tide of reason.

Many potential Conservative voters would opt for the Conservatives because they represent less, not more, government. Harper should hammer on the "less government/lower taxes" platform which separates him from the NDP and the Liberals.

Posted by: EBD | 2005-12-03 5:29:37 PM

Mandatory sentences for drugs. Just like the total failure of the U.S.A. war against drugs. Who asked Harper to do this? Is this 1957, and we just discovered that the blacks playing blues guitar are stoned? What is Harper's policy on swear words? On women with low-cut dresses? Is Sunday School now obligatory?
I would like to be able to vote for a conservative. If only that option existed.

Posted by: Bob & Ulli | 2005-12-03 5:52:55 PM

I can't really blame Harper for this, becuase he's doing what his party wants him to do: win votes. But I can lament the fact that appealing to the average Ontarian voter seems to mean endorsing unsustainable, contradictory and ridiculous positions on issues like health care, bilingualism, and marijuana. ("We want public health care, but we want it to be cheap and work well. We want to smoke pot, but we don't want it to be legal. We want everything to be bilingual, except in Quebec where they can do whatever they want.")

But I don't understand why he's taking a stand against SSM, rather than something less controversial. Wouldn't almost anything -- even scrapping the gun registry -- go over better with Torontonians?

Posted by: dr_dog | 2005-12-03 7:06:03 PM

This post argues with itself.

First, Chris says that decriminalization will actually increase the prosecution of minor drug offenses. Next, he calls the reforms schizophrenic because they reduce punishment for the user while increasing it for the seller.

Well, if you believe the first half of your post, the second half makes no sense.

Actually, this sounds like the most sound Liberal policy of the last 5 years: make the low-end offenses punished more often and more consistently; throw the book at the high-end offenses.

Posted by: pete_e | 2005-12-03 7:06:47 PM

No, it's the Liberal policy of the past hundred years: use the power of government to crush the individual's right to choose, because running society is a job for university graduates from the right schools and the right families. It is sad to see conservatives nodding their senile heads in agreement.

Posted by: Bob & Ulli | 2005-12-03 7:20:43 PM

None other then William F. Buckley supports legalization. In fact, he is in favour of legalizing and the regulating all drugs.

Between the elections Stephen Harper expressed interest in legalizing it (cannabis) if there was a way of definitively proving impairment in a relatively easy way. Without a method, we would be condoning driving under the influence of cannabis with no legal way of stopping it. While it remains illegal the police do have a way of doing so.

The other big problem is the United States.

They are already justifiably pissed at Canada for the almost unchecked grow-op industry exporting their stuff across the border.

Decriminalizing is bad enough and gives organized crime an even easier time of it while legalization in Canada without the same happening in the US would see organized crime simply smuggling legally produced cannabis across the border. This is essentially the opposite of what currently happens with cigarettes into Canada. Such a circumstance would not be unlike that of prohibition days which spawned Al Capone et al.

This is a real and realistic concern of the US and they would act to stop it from happening (read: border slowdowns).

Posted by: Gord Tulk | 2005-12-03 7:52:18 PM

sorry to post this off topic item but it seems too good to pass up - Norman Spector found this in the Ottawa Sun:


--How about this doozy in the department of promises made/promises kept? Incredibly, it turns out that not only are the Martinis incapable of firing people properly, they can't even blackball the alleged malefactors:

"A FULL month after Prime Minister Paul Martin's decision to immediately ban 10 Grits for life from the Liberal ranks as a result of the sponsorship scandal, his party has yet to get rid of them.

Irene Marcheterre, spokeswoman for the Liberals' Quebec wing, said three of those Grits remain card-carrying members and the other seven, who don't have current memberships, have yet to be banned from returning to the party's fold.

"The lawyers are working on it," Marcheterre said. "As soon as it's ready, they'll take it to the board."…

Not only do three of the 10 Liberals still hold party memberships, but one of those who is supposed to be banned -- Chretien's former riding organizer, Michel Beliveau -- recently received a letter from the party requesting a donation to help finance the election. And this week, Beliveau received a Christmas card from Martin."

This goes to the very core of PM's pledge to get the bottom of Adscam and punish those who were guilty.

Posted by: Gord Tulk | 2005-12-03 7:59:15 PM

Why doesn't Harper just say that he is going to have a referendum within 2 years of being elected on 2 issues: Legalization of pot and SSM? The torys can then step back and let all the interest groups go at it and let the public decide. Or am I a retard for having so much faith in the "masses of asses?"

Posted by: Lemmytowner | 2005-12-03 8:35:57 PM

Mr. Harper said the current health regime is 'sacrosanct'. Marijuana is widely, if wrongly when compared to alchohol, considered to be a 'drug'.(I think sugar is a drug, just ask a diabetic)

If one were to look at alchohol, it is decriminalized, ie regulated for legal consumption under specific circumstances, but illegal under others(checkstops)

Legalized/decriminalized depends on the regulations.

Anything which is totally contraband cannot be regulated, leading to a black market opportunity for blackhearted criminal types.

The government gets neither taxes nor regulatory powers.

In the case of most crimes the 'victim' goes to the government for protection. The traditional menu of crimes for organized gangsters are extortion, kidnapping, and blackmail. This is all the historical crime syndicates had before governments made drugs, gambling, and prostitution illegal.

Now, in most instances, government has provided a legal regulated outlet for gambling. This provides a platform for government to regulate gambling.(ie dogs fighting in pits is illegal)

In the case of drugs and prostitution the 'victim' is not traditionally a victim of the gangsters but of the government. In these instances the victim is a black market customer allied with the gangsters to break the governments laws.

In these instances the gangsters are more than competative with the government and the government is the 'enemy' from the citizens viewpoint. There is no 'victim' but the government.(and that only to the extent that it is seen to'not govern')

Posted by: Speller | 2005-12-03 11:05:06 PM

In all reality, Canadian policy on dope is dictated by DC. If we were to decriminalize it, border traffic would slow considerably.

On this issue, it's not the puritans in the Tory party that matter, it's the puritans in the GOP.

Posted by: Road Hammer | 2005-12-04 6:17:39 AM

I have read the Conservative drug plan. It is primarily about heroin, crack, cocaine, crystal meth. and other hard drugs. Yes, mary jane is mentioned but almost in passing and its regarding huge quantities. I agree, lets close the shoot up joints, get the druggies off the street and into rehabilitation. How do you suppose they support these habits, on welfare! Get real, this is the basis of prostitution, and break and enters. clean it up and cut crime!

Posted by: Mike W | 2005-12-04 8:56:53 AM

Going after marijuana users might be a problem for Tronna cops, who have to deal with the ever-rising crime rate. All those murders, shootings, and other serious crimes means lots of work. Plus, the gov'ts there aren't willing to pay for unlimited overtime.

But what about in places like Alberta, where the cops can afford to spend the time going after grow operations and other drug related crimes. We can manage these problems with little difficulty. This is why Ontario is failing and Alberta is succeeding.

Posted by: Scott | 2005-12-04 9:49:46 AM

The tories have to play the liberal game of smoke and mirrors or they will be crucified by the Liberal/media machine and thus the average chump who can't think for himself out there (Especially in Ontaxio and the Merrytimes) The more the tories will be perceived as being "opened" and "upfront" the more in fact they will have a conservative minded "hidden" agenda. That's what 40 years of suckling on a socialist tit has done to this once proud and relevant country. If you want to win an election in this country you have to prostitute yourself to please everyone no matter how pie-in-the-sky or illogic it is...To please as much selfishness as possible...What is black is white and vice versa.
I think the tories have no choice but to be perceived as being the new Liberal party without the corruption.

Posted by: metalguru | 2005-12-04 11:45:57 AM

Within one growing season after legalization, farmers would be screaming for price supports, grow-ops would be out of business, and the US border would be virtually locked down and with it most of the Canadian economy. Road Hammer has is right. When it comes to the futility of drug laws, its Washington that counts, not Ottawa.

Libertarians need to put Silly Smoke in the back of their agenda and focus on influencing the CPC where it makes sense.

Posted by: John Chittick | 2005-12-04 1:17:20 PM

Just apply the tobacco smoking laws to the pot smokers. I have never seen more egregious glee, ever, as I have watching the pandering socialist wanna bees jumping on the ban tobacco smoking bus. The Libertarians and people who figure people own their own lives are scarce indeed in this indocternated nation. Stephen Harper is not a cigarette (tobacco) or liquer 'banner.' He supports people being responsible for their own choices. How 'foreign' that sounds in this nanny land.

Posted by: jema54j | 2005-12-04 2:45:02 PM

The decriminalization bill died on the order paper because that's where the Liberals want it. Forever. That way they can keep supporters of the bill on their side, even if they have no intention of enacting the legislation.

Meanwhile, Mr. Harper has a job to do as leader of the CPC and candidate for his riding and the prime ministership. The CPC has no doubt polled undecided voters and found that his policy accouncement would have a net positive marginal effect on the CPC's share of the vote. Pace all the yada yada, this *is* a democratic election, and that's how it works.

Mr. Harper, the individual person, said on 2004-06-07 when asked whether asked whether he supported a smoke-free Canada: "I'm not a smoker -- I'm an asthmatic. But I'm not a prohibitionist. People are going to have a drink and a smoke and that's kinda the way life's going to be."

We've been waiting, along with Mr. Buckley, since the Ledane commission. Perhaps if we give Mr. Harper a couple terms in office he can get back to this after he's given his attention to Canada's most pressing problems. Governments change their policies all the time.

Posted by: Vitruvius | 2005-12-04 3:04:49 PM

Just a note: I observed to my husband today that it would be interesting if in future, you could buy a pack of cigarettes made from the "righteous bud" from the corner market, but not one made from tobacco. Different times, different mores, and marijuana and tobacco acceptable and legal, or not, in different times and places. (Not that this reflection solves the problem.)

Posted by: Meg Q | 2005-12-04 10:41:27 PM

When tobacco came to Europe, in some countries it was the death penalty. Einstien said his pipe was one of his two favourite things.

Posted by: Vitruvius | 2005-12-05 1:14:43 AM

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