POT LAW MUST BE CHALLENGED
It may not rate up there with Rosa Parks and the Montgomery, Alabama
bus boycott, which was the beginning of the end of racial segregation
in the U.S. It lacks the drama of the literally life-and-death
struggle to move abortions out of back alleys and give women the right
But the activities going on at the Da Kine Food & Beverage Shop on
Commercial Drive are every bit as much an act of civil disobedience in
the face of an unjust law.
The fight to legalize pot is not new. The first explosive battle took
place in Vancouver more than 30 years ago. There was another Mayor
Campbell running the city and the police. The NPA's Tom "Terrific"
Campbell was a not uncommonly lubricated businessman. His penchant for
hysteria on the subject of youth and drugs was nurtured by Jack
Webster, a devilishly effective and influential broadcaster in his
day. Campbell's hysteria infected the cops. And on a steamy night in
August, they charged on horseback into a group of relatively benign
hippies having a "smoke-in" on the streets of Gastown and left us the
historical footnote known as the Gastown Riots.
Our police have become a little more sophisticated over time and our
mayor, Larry Campbell, like his predecessor Philip Owen, thinks
marijuana should be legalized.
Last week's raid on the pot shop was cleverly planned to go off at a
quarter to six in the evening-exactly the right time to get the local
TV news chopper in the air above Commercial Drive and make the top of
every major newscast in town. The show of force-three dozen cops and a
whole block cordoned off-was ample to vindicate the police department
for not getting to the widespread lawlessness in the previous four
months Da Kine was operating.
But the cops and their ability to enforce the law is not the issue. It
is the law itself and our lawmakers that present the problem.
From the Gastown Riots until today, there have been repeated calls to
remove all aspects of marijuana use from the Criminal Code. It began
with the LeDain Commission on the Non-medical Use of Drugs and
continued through the most recent Special Senate Committee looking at
Throughout that time, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association has argued
in favour of legalizing every aspect of marijuana activity, saying,
"the continued criminalization of cannabis violates a fundamental
principle of democratic societies classically
enunciated by John
Stuart Mill, that the law should not interfere in the private lives of
citizens except to prevent clear and serious social harm that cannot
be addressed other than by legal means."
The BCCLA points out that the plans by the federal Liberals to
"decriminalize" pot possession under Bill C38 would make matters
worse. The bill would lead to far more people coming in contact with
the criminal justice system and the police as they would be ticketed
for possession. It would leave the bulk of the business in the hands
of organized crime and it would increase the penalties for cultivation
to the point where they are greater than the penalties for financing
terrorism, trafficking in illegal firearms and sexual assault.
Meanwhile, those who use marijuana and want to see it legalized have
grown to include an enormous cross section and comprise a sizeable
minority, if not the majority, in Canada. The law is held in contempt
by judges like Justice Mary Southin who says it "appears to be no
greater danger to society than alcohol" and Judge William Kitchen who
says putting people in jail for possession of pot is "pretty silly."
These comments and the widespread acceptance simply encourage those
who are willing to commit acts of civil disobedience. They understand
history's lesson: obeying a bad law brings no change at all.