In the mid-70s I was listening to late-nite student radio and two youngish cops were on talking about the prohibition on pot. The cops were making jokes and they gave off the impression that it was all some sort of a game to them. They seemed to have forgotten that people were going to jail in their game. It was a phone-in show and I was probably the only one listening, so I called them up. I can't remember all I said, but the punch line came when: given that the police had already been fighting this war for decades, and given the cost (not only in money but in lives lost) — were they just about to turn the corner? Was it just a matter of banging a few more drug dealer's heads together and we'll have it solved? When was it going to be, when they finally got rid of grass?
Unfortunately, the two police officers didn't have an answer to that question. I must have taken their breath away because they didn't utter a sound. The student interviewer had to take a station-break. I thought they'd come back to me, but they never did — just left me hanging on the end of the line. I thought with student radio I should have won a prize — winning one for our side! But they didn't even say goodbye, which I thought was pretty rude at the time. But probably a smart move because I had plenty more ammo to throw.
Notwithstanding that way back then student radio wasn't even on my side, I still thought it would only be a matter of time before we in Canada would legalize leaf. We had already had the Le Dain Commission, which recommended a repeal of the laws against simple possession and cultivation for personal use. And I certainly thought we'd beat those brutal Americans with their zero-tolerance war on drugs. They weren't shy of dishing out life sentences and they'd hunt you down even if you just sold bongs. But here it is some 40 years later and I've been proven wrong once again.
On the very same day that Stephen Harper's Safe Streets and Communities Act came into full force, Washington and Colorado voted to legalize the recreational use of locoweed. In Colorado adults over 21 can now grow up to six plants in private; in Canada six plants will get you a mandatory six-month jail term. Harper is appealing to his base, a vengeful mob, jealous of everyone who ever got a buzz.
In Washington State the pro-cannabis campaign cost over $6-million and it won 55% of the votes, at a cost of about $6 a vote. The narrow victory came through slick TV ads in which everyone looked like they'd never smoked a spliff in their life. There were no hippies praising the love grass — no need to preach to the choir. Instead the talk was all about regulating and controlling and taking money out of the hands of bad-guys. One ad had a fearsome American-Gothic matron stating it was time to beat up on bhang. At first you think she's against legalizing the happy cigarette and then you realize her plan is to make it legit and then tax the hell out of it. She made it sound like if you hate hemp you should vote to legalize it. Oh, those tricky pot-heads! If you hate the herb or love it — there is but only one way to vote.
But let's not forget the role income tax played in all this. Cunning role-reversals aside, the core message in those ads was the promise of free money. Washington has no state income tax and they're broke. They have been found guilty of shortchanging the state education system by their own Supreme Court. They've been ordered to pay up and they have no idea where the money is going to come from. Faced with the terror of tax hikes, voters would have been much more willing to buy the dream of a boo-boo-bush bonanza, and ignore the risks of taking on a grand social experiment. Desperate times calls for desperate measures.
The plan in Washington State is to sell stinkweed in specialized shops for $364 an ounce, which is a third more than it can currently be illegally bought for. I doubt the locals will be keen on paying more for their lids, but there should be a roaring trade in tourists from all over the continent. My guess is that the big money will still be made illegally. What we have here is the thin edge of the wedge. It may seem innocent enough to make it legal for dad to smoke a doobee in the workshop. But once you take the guilt and the fear away, it's only a matter of time before he's walling off half the shop and putting up lights.
But don't worry, that insanity won't happen up here in BC. Two weeks after the historic vote in the US, the front page of our local paper had a huge colour photo of a guy in a full hazmat suit carrying out of a house a bag of freshly murdered marijuana. And we're talking here the full hood and face mask and rubber gloves. It was like he was handling the ebola virus. At first I thought it was a joke — then it sunk in. I realized this was costing us a fortune. This was a bottomless pit where my property taxes were going.
In Victoria we don't have enough money to clean our sewage, but we got plenty for this guy to play dress-up. I looked at that hazmat hero and thought it's still a game to them, and they're playing it for all they're worth. It then dawned on me that what sucked the air out of those two cops forty years ago wasn't the embarrassment of having to admit they were never ever going to put paid to pooh bud — it was the horror of thinking that that could ever happen. They froze when they realized they didn't want to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. They want to be the heroes, getting overtime, fighting puff the dragon forevermore.
And they got their wish. They would now be comfortably pensioned off (still profiting from their war against the righteous bush!). But I wonder if Harper's hazmat stormtrooper looks south and reads the writing on the wall. It won't take long before Washington State is awash with wacky tobaccy. The experts claim some $3-billion in BC bud heads to the US every year. That will come to a crashing halt. Why would you risk crossing the border if you're just taking coals to Newcastle? Harper's plan is to throw everyone in jail and thereby obliterate one of BC's largest industries. Well, if he wants to be the guy who killed BC bud, he better hurry before cheap American imports beat him to it.
The irony in all this is that the reason we never decriminalized dope is because the US government wouldn't let us. Our politicians have always kowtowed to the US drug policy, as has the rest of the planet. Who would have guessed that those most brutalized by the US government would be the ones brave enough to take them on. You have to hand it to those American druggies, repeatedly coming up with their ballot-box initiatives, putting the choice directly in the hands of the people. You wouldn't think stoners would be clever enough to use democracy as a tool to side-step their politicians and actually get something done.
And of course, it has to have helped to have a president who spent his youth in Hawaii smoking maui wowie with his friends in the Choom Gang. President Obama has declared: "When I was a kid, I inhaled frequently. That was the point." What sort of message is that sending to the kids? The last three presidents all broke the law and took a toke (though one said he never inhaled) — is ganja now the gateway drug to the presidency?
Who can figure those crazy Americans? They cling to their guns and religion but they're willing to let you get high. And why would they reject a teetotalling white guy promising to lower their income taxes and instead go for a reefer-loving black guy who was promising to raise income taxes? Though they're stuck in an endless recession, they were willing to re-elect Obama and give a fella a second chance. There's hope for the free world yet.
But up here in Canada there ain't no second chances. For first-time offenders punishment is mandatory. We're going to get really tough this time. And that's how we're going to put an end to mary jane.