I am going ahead and posting the first two parts of this article that I started working on more than a month ago now. It's just snap shot of the last decade in pot politics in Canada and the US within the last decade and how policies have changed. Once I got to writing it kind of ballooned to include alot of pot history within the last century, and the outline just got to big so I'm going with the original drafts I began with. I still think they are pretty rough, but I've been busy lately and was sick for a couple of weeks to boot so I'm just gonna say fuck it and post it now. The second half is still just a jumble of notes, online bookmarks, and a decent outline-both on paper and in my head-of what it will look like. I hope to have the final parts posted within the next few weeks. I'm not happy with the title really, and the spelling and grammar haven't been thoroughly edited-but here it is.
We're on top, you're at the bottom
What a difference a decade makes. I remember how things used to be here in Canada not to long ago. In the early part of this decade it seemed like we were living in one of the most Pot friendly countries in the world, reflected not just in public attitudes but political climate as well. How times have changed.
BC had become a mecca of pot culture, its bud known around the globe, and while cannabis cafes and compassion clubs certainly didn't pop up in every other province, pot smokers around the country enjoyed a reasonably liberal attitude from the public and law enforcement towards the herb. They had every right to feel at ease. Simple possession of marijuana rarely led to jail time, only 5% of tokers busted for possession spent time behind bars. Public opinion polls consistently showed that the majority of Canadians supported medical marijuana, decriminalization, and/or legalization.
The government, held by The Liberal Party of Canada, actually took notice of public opinion and court decisions of the time, and Canada became the first country in the world to legalize medical marijuana in 2001. Then in 2002 a Special Senate Committee Report recommended that Canada legalize and regulate cannabis, and the very next year the Liberal government tabled a bill that would in fact decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Jesus, we were almost there. We had cops tired of busting people with joints, judges making precedent setting decisions that were altering public policy, a public ready to accept a different approach, a vibrant, world renowned pot culture on the west coast, medical marijuana, and a bill on the table set to decriminalize possession. How far away could legalization and regulation be? I mean we were leaps and bounds ahead of neighbors to the south......
During this time things didn't look quite as rosey in the good ole US of A. While there were certainly millions of marijuana users in America, a strong culture of pot, and an increase at the state level of medical marijuana laws, the shear weight and force put forth by the federal government behind the 'War on Drugs' since the Nixon administration made legalization appear to be nothing more than a pipe dream. By the time George W. took office in 2001 the numbers were staggering.
Despite the fact that the presidency had been held two terms by Bill Clinton, a democratic symbol of change, a saxaphone touting assuager of republican evils, the truth is the 'War on Drugs' maintained steady, if not increased, momentum during the Clinton years. In 2001 the number of prisoners (and prisons) in the US had reached record levels, fueled by drug related prosecutions. Estimates by some drug-advocacy groups at the time suggest the federal government was spending 50 billion dollars or more annually 'fighting' drugs.
Arm in Arm with John Walters, his new Drug Czar, George W. just kept on trucking. There were children to save, terrorists to put out of business, coca crops to be sprayed, and most importantly, marijuana arrests to be made. By the early 2000's marijuana accounted for nearly half of all drug arrests annually, nation wide. 'Marijuana isn't medicine you heathens! Now get your ass in jail.'
How could anyone at the time think that a country that was rabidly prosecuting sick and disabled people for using marijuana as medicine would legalize it for recreational purposes? The feds weren't thinking legalization. No, they were thinking those french speaking, hockey playing hosers north of the border were up to something funny. And where in the fuck were all those marijuana seeds coming from?
Flip-Flop. Actually, more like just a flop...
In the early 2000's I was confident that Canada was going to forge ahead into the new millennium a leader in cannabis reform, and eventually set an example for other nations that marijuana legalization was indeed more rational than prohibiting it. Then it all went to shit...
In the US the powers that be were deeply concerned with what was happening in Canada. A law contradicting complete and utter prohibition of marijuana in a bordering country was unacceptable, and something had to be done. A 2004 Parliament report clearly states subtle overtures from American officials threatening restrictions on trade if Canada were to proceed down a path to looser marijuana laws. I'm sure conversations behind closed doors included not so subtle language, and the bill to decriminalize marijuana possession remained un-passed despite all the previous enthusiasm and positive policy recommendations.
Interestingly enough the same report had this little tid-bit:
The American anti-drug warriors were well aware of Marc Emery and his legalization movement, and in early 2005 John Walters himself visited Vancouver to inspect the situation for himself. After Walters had been insulted by Emery and other marijuana activists while giving a presentation and in the local media, the Vancouver police dept tried to secure a warrant from Canadian Crown prosecutors to search Emery's businesses. When the Crown did not comply the VDP then reported to Walters who in turn convinced Canadian authorities to allow him to execute his own warrant. In July 2005 the DEA arrested Emery in Nova Scotia, and the rest is history, including any further hope of decriminalization in Canada. Politically speaking, the climate for marijuana reform was becoming very chilly indeed.
The reasons however didn't lie solely on external American influences. By the time of these events, the Liberal Party had been governing Canada with a solid majority in the House of Commons since 1993, and, as is often the case with any governing party, on either side of the political spectrum, they were beginning to implode after so many years in power. In 2004, after their long time and popular leader Jean Cretin retired, and scandals and abuses of power were coming to light, they could only muster a minority government. Subsequent elections have seen the party that fostered such hope for the marijuana movement delegated to the official opposition.
Liberal domination of the House for more than a decade was made that much easier by The Progressive Conservative's own implosition in the late 1980's, and that since 1993 voters had another right wing option on the ballot.
The Reform Party of Canada started as a populist movement in 1987 to represent Western Canadian interests, but by 1993 they had become a nationally registered party and thereafter gained increasing support from right wing voters. Long story short, after years of continually seeing the right wing vote split the Progressive Conservative's, in 2003, finally succumbed to pressure from the Reform Party, by 2000 known as the Canadian Alliance, to unite in order to secure a Conservative government. The result was the newly coined Conservative Party of Canada, and in 2004, under new leader Steven Harper, they formed the official opposition. In 2006 Harper became Prime Minister when the Conservatives won a minority in the House.
Why is all this really relevant to marijuana politics? Well for one the former PC party, from 1896 until 1993, only formed government five times, and, ideologically speaking, was always more of a 'center-right' party. Secondly, over the last century Liberal instilled policies regarding health care, economics, human rights, even military mandates, have created an image of our country as, well, a liberal one. It was just a natural progression of our identity that we were ready to decriminalize marijuana in 2003, if I can put it that way.
This new Conservative party is basically a morph of the old Reform Party, with a much more traditionally conservative ideology based strongly on fundamental religious values. They are anti-abortion, anti-gay rights, racist, and, o ya, tough on crime baby.
Since ascending to power, albeit with a minority government, Stephen Harper introduced Bill C-15, a bill with mandatory minimums for marijuana 'crimes', has refused to allow Marc Emery to serve his sentence in Canada, and, most recently, appointed a religious zealot to conduct and promote 'studies' on the link between marijuana and schizophrenia.
With the Liberal party still in a shambles and despite the fact that these and many of their other policies appear decidedly 'un-Canadian', this new Conservative party is actually gaining slight, but steady, support in the polls, and seems poised to form a majority government and unleash who knows what else against the evils of marijuana. With a majority mandate the Conservatives are sure to continue an American style, tough on crime approach to drug policy.
Times have changed in the last decade very much indeed.