Opinion Column

THE DUEL: Laws sending mixed messages


In The Duel, 24 hours columnists David Eby and Kathryn Marshall battle over the issues of the day. Who's the winner this week? Fire us an email at van24feedback @sunmedia.ca.

The pot prohibition debate: To legalize it or not to legalize it?

We hear all the time about how prohibition of marijuana hasn't really worked. Kids smoke pot, gangs smuggle drugs and bad guys get rich. But all that happens not because of prohibition, but because society lets it happen.

The problem is not prohibition, it's that in B.C., society and the government send very mixed messages on drugs. On one hand, the law says drugs are illegal, the government runs TV ads targeting kids about the dangers of everything from cannabis to crystal meth, and the police hunt down drug growers and smugglers. But on the other hand, sometimes it seems we've given up enforcement of marijuana laws on drug users in the Lower Mainland. When people are arrested, they rarely go to jail, and if they do, it isn't for very long - and then we have elected officials musing watering down the law.

Read David Eby's column

If you want to see the blind eye we turn on marijuana use and sale, just walk down Robson Street by the back steps of the Art Gallery on a sunny afternoon. It doesn't take long to smell the pot smoke, or to be approached by someone looking to sell you something illegal.

If the justice system doesn't take an illegal activity seriously, why would we expect anyone else to? If we are going to prohibit marijuana, let's really do it and treat it seriously. No more mixed messages.

We know this works. I recently lived in Singapore, where the drug trade and drug problems are virtually non-existent, despite it being one of the busiest ports in the world. Like most countries, Singapore's approach is that marijuana is illegal - but they back it up. Possession of marijuana can get you 10 years in jail and a $16,000 fine. Trafficking can even result in a death sentence. I'm not saying we should bring in capital punishment, but the point is when you get serious, you get results. If the punishment outweighs the profits, the violent gangs will get out of the drug business.

And as for the tired old line that we can use taxation to cut young people off from marijuana - how has that worked out with cigarettes? Or alcohol?

David claims that most people want to see the laws on cannabis changed. But if that is the case, why doesn't any major political party, including the NDP, support legalization?

Marijuana and other drugs are illegal because they are harmful. Making them legal won't eliminate the harm, we'll just be sanctioning misery.