by Corey David
Cannabis was made legal on October 17, 2018 across the Canadian state and if you listen to the mainstream media you might think it was a revolutionary move to end stigma and salvage the lives of tens of thousands who have been criminalized by the state for consuming this herb. As a 10 years-plus pot smoker, I can truthfully say that is not the case.
The Justin Trudeau government, true to Liberal Party tradition, implemented a modest reform that enjoys broad popular support without rocking the boat very much. (Proportional representation was evidently far too radical). Former Toronto Police chief and current MP Bill Blair is in charge of the legalization process. Someone whose job it was to enforce laws that attacked poor and racialized communities while leaving more affluent neighbourhoods alone (if you think there aren’t drugs in the rich hoods you should talk to the dealers; if you don’t have a connection there are available studies).
It seems that while Blair and his team researched how to best introduce the bill they did not consult with a very important “partner”, First Nations. Indigenous main concerns with the Bill are how the law would override individual reservations’ by-laws, how it did not take into consideration the challenge of substance abuse facing these communities and did not consult on tax sharing where some of the revenue would go back into reserves.
There is a theme here and we will likely see it blatantly expressed in Ontario where the provincial government has decided to privatize cannabis sales starting in 2019 (maybe Premier Doug Ford will sponsor a ‘buck a beer’ combo to celebrate the occasion). So, what will happen when there are repercussions like increased addiction, or medicinal shortages because of consumer demand? Communities and the public sector will be burdened with the true cost, while companies and shareholders rake in profits. Some Ontario Public Service Employees Union members employed by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, building on the plans of the previous Kathleen Wynne Liberal government to sell through LCBO stores, wanted to see revenues go into public coffers, as is the case with alcohol.
In fact, the lead up to legalization many wealthy investors and ex-prohibitionists are benefiting, including former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney who tried to push through Bill C-85 that would have put weed in the same category as heroin under federal law. How can he reconcile his new investments with his previous support for criminalizing users? On a personal note, my father who was against weed when I started using has now invested tens of thousands of dollars in marijuana stocks. Just because a piece of paper was signed and there’s money to be made, now it’s a good thing.
That seems to be the real driver behind this push to legalize. At the end of a road of suffering, protest, and black-market business, there is an opportunity to make a lot of cash. Hand in hand, government and corporations have stumbled onto a booming industry.
Sadly, there is scarcely a mention of the lives that have been ruined by enforcement of the prohibition law, or the abuse inflicted in its name by a racist and classist legal system. A pardon process is limited to minor possession charges. So, should we thank the Feds for a thumbs up to start burning? I’m not satisfied with this token gesture that paints our country’s leaders as champions of liberty. They give corporations the keys to produce, store, and sell as much as they can, while continuing a restrictive policy towards individuals. It offers no apology for the oppression it doled out, and the propaganda it published to misinform. It promotes those who recently were at war with drugs into positions of mastery over the industry. It exploits those most vulnerable, who are living precariously and maybe suffering from addiction, while providing no increase in treatment infrastructure, though nearly every political party demands better services.
“The focus is to protect kids” — but not those in poverty who seek an escape route through the drug trade, in the absence of other options, not for those stuck in generational cycles of trauma caused by substance abuse, and not for those who had their parents taken away by this same system. Bill C-45 is a white wash. It ignores the issues and the realities of the drug question as it’s poised to gouge users who will have to pay more for legal weed than the stuff they get around the corner. It is one more thing to be commercialized and controlled by the capitalist elite, not the groups that fought for change, and who were harassed for almost a century for smoking a plant they could grow in the backyard.
Where is the effort to deal with the fentanyl crisis, the housing crisis, the environmental crisis, the lack of clean drinking water on reserves and the murdered and missing indigenous people? Profit is king, the only thing worth striving for under our current system, it seems.