Marijuana legislation’s costs outweigh its justification

Patrick Butler
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In the months since Rob Ford’s political troubles became the most over-reported story of the year, a Washington, D.C., sports talk radio show called “The Sports Junkies” has become the source of some of the Toronto mayor’s most candid opinions on current events and politics.

After being stripped of most of his mayoral duties last November, Ford began making regular appearances on the show.

While on the air last week, he voiced his views on the potential for government revenue through decriminalizing marijuana.

 “Why wouldn’t they at least decriminalize it and make some money off it?” he asked while on the show. Ever the newsmaker, Ford landed himself in the papers yet again.

Any other politician might back away from the contentious subject of decriminalization, especially after the tumultuous past few months Ford has endured and especially if their political woes were the direct result of illegal drug use.

But Ford isn’t one to avoid controversy, and at this point, he certainly can’t cause himself too much further political damage by bringing up anything drug-related while on the radio.

Ford is far from the first political leader to publicly address marijuana as a political issue and, in truth, I’m not really sure what he meant by his comments.

It isn’t really obvious whether what Ford said about the possibility for government revenue through decriminalization was actually related to legalizing marijuana and taxing it.

Whatever he meant, Ford is adding to the canon of voices supporting action on Canada’s current marijuana laws, whether through decriminalization or legalization. With his comments, he is essentially maintaining an enduring discourse in Canadian politics over the past few years on an issue that continues to garner a huge amount of attention.

When Ford said the government could make money off of marijuana, he wasn’t lying.

Considering the extraordinary amount of revenue the federal government makes from taxes on controlled substances, the prospect of legalizing, regulating and taxing pot must be tempting, if solely from a revenue standpoint.

But even were the government to merely decriminalize marijuana, it would still be hugely cost-effective.

With court resources stretched thin, devoting already limited justice and police resources to prosecuting people who smoke marijuana recreationally or who grow small amounts of marijuana for personal use — hardly what you’d call hardened criminals — takes its toll on the system, and to what end?

Law enforcement authorities appear to be of the same opinion, at least with regards to saving resources. Last summer, the national police chiefs association submitted a proposal to the federal government to give police officers the power to ticket people caught with small amounts of marijuana instead of charging them.

Under the current system, police officers must either charge those caught with marijuana, giving them a permanent criminal record, or choose to look the other way.

While the chiefs argue this isn’t a push towards decriminalization or legalization, it certainly shows the degree of punishment that officers feel possession of marijuana deserves.

The current political reality is one where the cost of marijuana laws seems to outweigh their justification. Existing legislation continues to demonize marijuana while similarly harmful recreational substances such as alcohol and cigarettes remain regulated and fully legal.

Economic incentives aside, marijuana laws are an ineffective and expensive contradiction that is becoming too obvious to ignore.

Smoking pot certainly isn’t harmless, but it is no less so than alcohol or cigarettes, both of which have well established connections with addiction and abuse and both of which are nevertheless regulated and taxed for profit by the government.

Polls have shown that over two thirds of Canadians now favour decriminalizing or legalizing pot, Rob Ford among them. Other politicians have already tried capitalizing on numbers like that to win approval.

It mightn’t happen under the current government, but it’s only a matter of time before Canada’s outdated marijuana laws get the boot.

Sooner or later, they’ll go to pot.

Patrick Butler, who’s from Conception Bay South, is enrolled in the journalism

program at Carleton University.

He can be reached by email


Organizations: Carleton University

Geographic location: Canada

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Recent comments

  • david
    January 13, 2014 - 18:18

    When governments eventually see the tax revenues for Colorado, they will all start selling weed. You know why? Because governments are addicted to money, with much of it......quietly, systematically, indirectly.....spent on themselves. Principles ?! Seriously ?! You're harshin' my buzz, dude!

  • ALogon
    January 13, 2014 - 13:24

    You make broad statements that assume that they are their own proof of something. 1)" Smoking pot certainly isn’t harmless". With what "certainty" are you making this statement? I defy you to find any studies not produced for the purpose of fear-mongering that confirm your statement. 2)"it certainly shows the degree of punishment that officers feel possession of marijuana deserves." - You assume this means something more than the degree of punishment that every other citizen feels possession deserves. Police know little about the law in practice and certainly are not qualified to create it or define it. They are, very basically, trained in enforcing law in very 2-dimensional terms. Even, as you suggest, looking the other way is a violation of their duty. If they see a "crime" and havereasonnable proof or suspiscion, they are duty-bound to charge, otherwise they are making they law, something they are not entitled or qualified to do.