Progress in the war on drugs

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The Article

So far this year, London police and RCMP officers have conducted more than 80 raids on illegal marijuana growers within the city, and seized tens of millions of dollars worth of plants. Other municipalities across the province are in the throes of a similar law-enforcement struggle.

Is it time, then, to give up on the war on drugs? Should Parliament and the Ontario Legislature not frankly acknowledge that at least in the case of marijuana, prohibition for recreational use is plainly not working?

Most definitely not. Marijuana is not harmless. Despite the contrary claims of infatuated pot heads, there is overwhelming scientific evidence that cannabis is no less dangerous to life and health than alcohol and tobacco.

Perhaps so, some might argue, but alcohol and tobacco are legally produced and sold. Why not marijuana as well? Why should the Ontario government forgo the huge revenues it could gain by taxing and selling marijuana through government-controlled outlets like the LCBO?

The answer is, or should be, obvious: Addiction to alcohol and tobacco ruins the life and health of tens of thousands of Canadians every year. No legislator with a prudent regard for the health and wellbeing of Canadians would compound these problems by legalizing marijuana as well.

Granted, the suppression of marijuana production and consumption is a never-ending and expensive proposition. But the same is true of any major law-enforcement operation. The police expend vast resources in a perpetual effort to enforce the highway traffic act, yet no one would suggest that the Ontario Legislature should give up the struggle and legalize speeding, careless driving or any of the other all-too-frequent traffic infractions.

Besides, the aim of the police is not to eliminate crime altogether, but to curtail it at reasonable cost. By this standard, there is no reason for police, educational and health authorities to give up on the struggle to curtail marijuana trafficking, addiction and abuse.

Certainly, OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino is not about to surrender in the war on drugs. On a recent radio call-in show, he maintained that Ontario police are doing a good job of holding down the number of marijuana grow-ops. Last year, his force dismantled 499 of them, seized 211,919 marijuana plants, removed more than $264 million drugs from circulation and brought 4,700 charges against 2,400 people.

Moreover, there is evidence that the combined efforts of health, education and law-enforcement officials to combat drug abuse is paying off. According to the latest data on drug use among Ontario students compiled by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), the proportion of students in Grades 7, 9 and 11 who admitted to having used cannabis at least once in the past year was 22 per cent in 2007, down slightly from 23.9 per cent in 1997, but significantly below the peak of 29.1 per cent in 1979.

While the great majority of Ontario students use cannabis only occasionally or not at all, CAMH estimates that an alarming 10 per cent use the drug on a daily basis and may already have developed a problem with cannabis dependence.

Meanwhile, there has been a dramatic reduction in tobacco smoking among Ontario students. According to CAMH, the proportion who report that they have smoked tobacco in the past year was just 11 per cent in 2007, down from 27 per cent in 1997 and a peak of 35 per cent in 1979.

The McGuinty Liberal government deserves much of the credit. In 2005, it initiated a Smoke Free Ontario Campaign that featured tougher enforcement of the ban on tobacco sales to anyone under 19 as well as an unprecedented $50 million in funding for enhanced health and educational programs to combat tobacco smoking.

Clearly, this Ontario anti-smoking campaign has been a huge success. While continuing to discourage tobacco smoking, the Ontario government should now focus on a stepped-up campaign to combat the even greater menace posed by marijuana. At stake is the life and health of literally hundreds of thousands of people, young and old, in Ontario.


I have asked for the following correction:

Rory Leishman stated in his column “Progress in the war on drugs” (June 27): ” there is overwhelming scientific evidence that cannabis is no less dangerous to life and health than alcohol and tobacco.” That statement was incorrect. There is no scientific evidence to support that assertion.

I personally regret and am hugely embarrassed by my misstatement. While there is plenty of scientific evidence of harm produced by the recreational use of cannabis (for a recent summary of the evidence, see here), a number of readers have forcibly drawn to my attention that I was quite simply wrong to state that there is compelling scientific evidence that cannabis is no less dangerous than alcohol and tobacco.

I am now going to indulge in the soporific diversion of a P. G. Wodehouse novel.



Rory Leishman
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