Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
I'll start with an admission. I may have smoked a cannabis joint at university. I say may because it came around at a party and I’m not sure. Having consumed a fair amount of Southern Comfort and beer (never a good mix) I can’t recall the exact details. I do recall inhaling, unlike a certain US President. Furthermore, it’s impossible to have noticed any effects. My system was buzzing with alcohol.
That is the extent of my illicit drug consumption. These days my drug of choice is a decent single malt. Also, I’ve learnt to moderate my intake. Well, a clear head in the morning is something to be treasured.
Having steered two daughters through their teenage years with constant warnings and seen the terrible consequences for those who succumb, I’m reluctant about relaxing the law.
Thus, the recent announcement that Canada is legalising the use of cannabis raises mixed feelings. Let me state from the outset, no one should object to the medicinal use of marijuana. Under the control of medical professionals, applied in measured amounts it has considerable benefits. The medical evidence is strong that cannabis can relieve pain for people living with cancer to ease chemotherapy.
It’s also known that marijuana can worsen bipolar conditions, thus its a mixed story. On the medical risks, pot is less harmful than alcohol.
Recreational use of cannabis is more problematic. Like alcohol, this issue is an issue of moderation. Anyway, Canada has since October 17 legalised recreational use.
This decision appears in part due to the law being more observed in its breach. Even Jordan Peterson asserts this is a sound justification for relaxing the rules. I don’t agree. Taking things to an extreme, would we repeal the laws on murder because the practice became popular. Nor, am I confident that this isn’t part of creeping change with no red lines.
Indeed, I agree there are many valid arguments to support relaxing the law. Taking the drug trade out the hands of criminals is a substantial reason. That’s the most persuasive argument I can see. The government can then tax the activity to the benefit of the public coffers. Never missing an opportunity, Hong Kong hosted a cannabis investors forum this week. Cannabis is a new exciting commodity.
Also, relaxation of the law will allow a better-informed customers to understand what they’re consuming. Canada stipulates packaging must provide details on the marijuana strain and its strength. This labelling includes a disclaimer about the health risks associated with pot.
None of these positives can’t suppress my suspicion that legalising recreational use will invite a new set of problems. The long-term health impacts of cannabis remain in doubt. Likewise how the drug will change behaviour is an area that needs exploring. Granted most pot-heads are mellow types yet you wouldn't want operating complicated machinery.
Stepping back to take a broader view, I'm anxious that any relaxation opens the door to feed into a culture of impulsive pleasure. The libertarians talk of rights and freedom, and these are important, yet, responsibility must come into play. I do not see much of that discussion.
Nor are we talking about the cost of overindulgence? It’s the sober citizen who will need to pick up the pieces. The cops, the doctors, the nurses and paramedics are likely to feel the first impact. Later the courts and families get hit. Could we be asking ten years down the road was it wise to cross the line?
There are some positive signs out there. Recent studies identified significant declines in underage drinking in 20 of 28 countries. In countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Sweden, teen drinking halved. Rates of cannabis and meth/amphetamine use have also declined in the past decade.
There’s a global consistency of trends suggesting a shift in youth culture driving a change away from drugs and alcohol use. It’s speculated that kids are better informed about the risks. Many are making a lifestyle choice. They switch to exercise, eating well and avoiding alcohol and other drugs. This is a refreshing change.
It could be I'm missing the point here. The revenues from taxes that will result from the legalisation and sales of marijuana are a massive boost to Canada's coffers. Though estimates vary, recreational marijuana could generate upwards of US$5 billion in annual tax.
Thus, in part, the motivation appears to be fiscal. Yes the Liberals who are in power stand to gain by helping balance the budget. Which is troubling, because a drug policy harnessed to budgetary concerns put the government in the place of the gangs. Even Don Vito Corleone wouldn't touch the drugs trade. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is less reticent.
Events in Canada suggest that the supplies of cannabis are inadequate for demand. A roaring trade is underway. Meanwhile, we are unlikely to understand the full impact for some years. I hope I’m wrong, but I suspect the unforeseen will arise and Canada may yet regret this move.
Walter De Havilland is one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Hong Kong Police.