Legalizing Marijuana: trial or triumph?

The Burning Bush is a semi-regular column which features debates and discussions on current issues in culture and media and suggested ways for Christians to engage them through the lens of faith. New article ideas are always welcome.
Pablo, Flikr
In Favour:
Kalyn Falk and Ro Walker Mills are part of the community of saint benedict’s table.
The process of marijuana legalization in Canada has been layered with fear and lack of factual evidence. This article will outline our current understanding of marijuana and the flaws inherent in it, the economics of legalization, and our role in mandating behaviour.
“Not because of sound science, but because of its absence, marijuana was classified as a schedule 1 substance” (Robert Ferris, “These Are The 9 Reasons That Sanjay Gupta Changed His Mind About Marijuana”). This means the United States government considers pot a drug with no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Other drugs in this category include LSD, heroin, and ecstasy.
In Canada, marijuana is considered schedule 2, which makes research more feasible and acknowledges that it should be considered fundamentally different than more harmful substances. America’s definition has shaped some of our fear around marijuana. Yet while, “marijuana leads to dependence in… 10% of its adult users, cocaine, classified as a (less addictive) schedule 2 substance, hooks 20% of those who use it. Around 25% of heroin users and 30% of tobacco users become addicted” (Ferris).
The medical benefits of marijuana, however, are widely recognized. “Seventy-six percent of physicians surveyed would prescribe marijuana to ease the pain of women suffering from breast cancer” (Ferris). Other medical benefits include relief from inflammatory bowel disorder and Crohn’s disease, reduction in seizures, help with glaucoma, slowing down the advancement of cancer and Alzheimer’s, and anti-anxiety (Jennifer Welsh and Kevin Loria, “23 Health Benefits of Marijuana”).
Since it has been proven to be of medical use and not prone to abuse, it is time to legalize and regulate marijuana like alcohol. With 23 states legalizing marijuana for medical purposes and another 4 legalizing it for recreational use in a country that still considers it section 1, we should be willing to pursue regulation as well. This would allow us to do more effective research and ensure that doses, strain varieties, and modalities (ingestion, inhalation, topical methods) are based on robust science and clear-eyed understanding.
Legalization would also have enormous economic implications. There are three main areas where money would be recouped: taxing cannabis sales, recouping black market sales, and reducing the prison population. Marijuana tax would be roughly the same amount of money as the tobacco tax, just under $7.5 billion in 2011-2012. Trudeau has already said that the majority of this money would be used to address public health and addictions issues.
From 2006-2012 (when the Harper government came to power), arrests for pot possession jumped 41%. “In those six years, police reported more than 405,000 marijuana-related arrests, roughly equivalent to the populations of Regina and Saskatoon combined” (Ken MacQueen, “Why it’s time to legalize marijuana”). Imagine the amount of time and money that was lost, not only in court proceedings, but also in how much it costs to keep people in the prison system.
Finally, the biggest question is our role in creating laws. Is the point of law to dictate morality? If so, whose morality trumps others? If we choose to state that the use of marijuana is immoral and illegal, we unwittingly force people who choose to use it into an identity as deviant or criminal, when actually they may not be causing harm to themselves or others.
In any case, has prohibition been effective? We’ve seen historically that using law to restrict freedoms simply forces behaviours underground, where there are no safety or control mechanisms. When we set laws based on a specific morality and not a shared understanding of doing no harm, we are in danger of dehumanizing people who have a different experience than ourselves.
More helpful would be a response that meets our fears and concerns: how do we ensure that standards are in place to ensure quality control over products, safety for the public, and restrict access for young people? If we treated marijuana like alcohol, we could ensure protective mechanisms that would meet all of these concerns, while still valuing individuals’ rights to self-determination and personal choice.
Chuck Grimmett
In Opposition:
Geoff Woodcroft is the priest at St. Paul’s, Fort Garry, and writes with the assistance of Huelwen Jones.
When we ask for something that is illegal to be seen as not illegal, are we necessarily asking for it to be legalized? Likewise, when we ask for something to be made illegal, are we asking that it be changed from being legal, or from being “not illegal”?
Things may be not illegal,not because we approve them, but because they are new things the law hasn’t caught up with yet, like cyberbullying. Or perhaps we don’t want to criminalize them with severe consequences, but also don’t want to encourage them, such as engaging in prostitution. Does making pot not illegalmean we tolerate but discourage its use? Cigarettes are legal – but do we approve their use?
This brings us to the issue of regulation. Tobacco and alcohol are highly regulated, but they are not necessary for life. Water is a necessity of life which we claim as a human right, but water rights can be bought by businesses and the water sold for a profit. Who has the privilege to sell water rights, and by what law is ownership of water permissible?
There are tried and tested medicinal uses for pot that should be covered under the laws governing medicine. The leaders in the pharmaceutical industry can move to include or exclude whatever drugs they determine, and they are a powerful lobby group. I expect that they are not interested in the legalization of pot, because research and development, in a sense, is being done for them.
I find myself in a different space than I was 30 years ago, when I was very much in favour of legalization. Now, as I watch poorly guided public discourse, radically diverse medical studies, and political strivings over the issue of legalization, I fear that we are poising our colonial selves to once again destroy through over-regulation something God has made: a simple plant.
I remember the day my brother came home from the local fall fair with a t-shirt that said, “Man made booze, God made weed; who do you trust?” I also remember my mother that same day… The point here is that we are discussing a part of God’s creation that we do not fully understand. If we keep pot illegal, we remove much opportunity to understand, wrestle with, and discover something that obviously has a natural power. However, should we choose to legalize pot, I think we run more of a risk to abuse, waste, genetically modify, and privatize that which God naturally made to be part of this world with us. Canada should remove the illegal status that pot presently has, thus making it not illegal, but not make it legal and therefore vulnerable to regulation.

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