Compassion club raids: the forces of Prohibition rage on
By Shawn Katz, Montreal Public Policy Examiner
As more information steadily comes to light following yesterday's dramatic raids on Montreal's cannabis clubs, one can't help but be struck by the latent absurdity of the entire affair. Though unwittingly, the police's true achievement may have been to shine a light on the striking dissonance between Canadian society's attitudes towards marijuana on the one hand, and the iron letter of the law on the other.
The CBC yesterday reported 35 arrests in the raids, including local marijuana activist and politician Marc-Boris St-Maurice, former leader of the Marijuana Party and independent candidate for city council in the last municipal elections. Their offence, according to police, was providing medicinal marijuana to customers who lacked the "requisite" authorization from Health Canada. "Requisite," in quotations, because the courts might very well beg to differ: following a similar raid on a compassion club in 2000, a Quebec judge in fact ruled that it was unconstitutional to deny people the opportunity to procure marijuana after having said - through federal legislation - that they could use it for medicinal purposes. Whether the courts will judge this police action as legitimate remains to be seen, but at issue here is something far broader:
Canadian marijuana laws are archaic, and everybody knows it.
The Canadian majority seeking its full out legalization know it; the politicians of four out of our five national parties, representing an even clearer majority, know it as well. And Montrealers in particular, accustomed to strolling, joint in hand and undisturbed, through public parks or down main streets - or simply lounging at the tams on a Sunday afternoon with a picnic and a spliff - perhaps know it more than most. Current laws serve neither the cause of public safety, nor of public health - at least not when held up against the same balancing standard of civil liberties as are cigarettes, alcohol, or a host of other vices we tolerate and regulate for the sake of preserving our individual freedoms. In the Canada of 2010, these truths are barely controversial, and to most perhaps, self-evident.
For a time it seemed Canadian laws were about to catch up with Canadian society, as the previous Liberal government prepared to decriminalize recreational use of the drug in small amounts. Along, then, came the Conservatives however, who with barely over a third of voters supporting them, rose to office and quickly went about declaring a new "war on drugs" - circa 1985. Now, Marc Emery sits in an American jail cell awaiting sentencing, and Montreal's compassion clubs sit fighting for their survival.
If they are ultimately closed, then new clubs will doubtless spring up in their place to fill the gap and challenge the authorities anew. In the meantime, the compassion clubs' members will be turning to the streets for their drugs, and organized crime will be smiling ear to ear, thanking the police for their great service this week.
Aside from this, police will have accomplished nothing, save the wasting of valuable tax-funded resources on a misguided war lost before it ever began.