US Drug "Policy" Is Prejudice, Ignorance
When it comes to marijuana, the U.S. government is full of ugly prejudice and has rejected a calm, scientific approach. At the same time, other countries are moving toward a more scientifically sound, free market system for marijuana. Here is a remarkable assessment from a recent U.S. Surgeon General.
Canada Has It Right On Marijuana
by Dr. Joycelyn EldersOn Dec. 12, Canada's House of Commons special committee on the non-medical use of drugs released a report calling for the decriminalization of marijuana, and Justice Minister Martin Cauchon has said he plans to put forth a decriminalization bill early in 2003.
It is a safe bet that the U.S. government reaction will be hostile, just as it always seems to be when people talk about reconsidering marijuana laws.
Canadians should understand that on drug policy, the U.S. government is increasingly out of step with Americans. Canadians should use their own good sense, make their own judgments, and disregard U.S. bullying, as most of our drug laws were made on a racist foundation instead of science.
In September, when the Canadian Senate special committee on illegal drugs issued a report that recommended replacing marijuana prohibition with a system of regulation, the official U.S. reaction was swift and blunt. John Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (commonly termed the Drug Czar) was quoted on both sides of the border expressing his dismay. He even hinted at a border crackdown that could strangle trade between our nations.
U.S. drug-policy leaders should spend more time talking with knowledgeable Canadians such as Senate committee chairman Pierre Claude Nolin to learn why they have reached such dramatically different conclusions from the U.S. drug warriors. If they did, they might learn that much of their rhetoric about marijuana being a "gateway drug" is simply wrong. After decades of looking, scientists still have no evidence that marijuana causes people to use harder drugs. If there is any true "gateway drug," it's tobacco.
And tobacco, through its direct physical effects, kills many thousands of people every year. So does alcohol. And it is easy to fatally overdose on alcohol, just as you can fatally overdose on prescription drugs, or even over-the-counter drugs, such as aspirin or acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol).
I don't believe that anyone has ever died from a marijuana overdose.
This is not to say that marijuana is harmless. It's not, and there are good reasons not to use it -- especially for young people.
But from a public-health perspective, there is a solid case to be made that arresting marijuana users, giving them criminal records and disrupting careers and families does more harm to more people than the drug itself does.
Why do U.S. officials such as Mr. Walters so adamantly resist even having this discussion? The answer lies in the numbers. We have a massive antidrug bureaucracy that is largely fuelled by our war on marijuana: Nearly half of all drug arrests in the United States are for marijuana-related charges, and 89 per cent of those are for simple possession. Take away those arrests and massive antidrug budgets are much harder to justify.
But if our officials start making threats again, Canadians should remember that those officials don't represent the views of the American public. A Nov. 4 Time magazine poll found that 72 per cent of Americans don't believe marijuana users should go to jail. Eighty per cent believe seriously ill people should be able to use marijuana for medical purposes, despite our government's rigid opposition to that humane and sensible idea.
If Canada needs guidance, it can look toward Europe, where many governments have moved toward enlightened policies, and others are conducting serious, thoughtful examinations of their marijuana laws. If we are lucky, Canada will set an example that the United States will eventually follow.
Dr. Joycelyn Elders was U.S. surgeon-general from 1993 to 1994. She currently is Distinguished Professor of Public Health at the University of Arkansas School of Medicine in Little Rock.
Email this article Sign up for free Progress Report updates via email
The current USA policy seems to be blind opposition, ignorant of the facts about marijuana. It is not a scientific or medical policy at all. Will the U.S. catch up with other countries? What's your opinion? Tell your views to The Progress Report:
Page One Page Two Archive Discussion Room Letters What's Geoism?