Don’t be pissed at police for shutting down marijuana dispensaries. Focus that energy on changing the law, and making pot legal.
In October 2015, Justin Trudeau was elected as Prime Minister of Canada on promises of, among other things, legalizing pot.
Since then, over 80 illegal marijuana dispensaries have cropped up across Toronto, and the same is happening across the country. The Liberal Government’s promise to table legislation in spring of 2017 has only sped up the (still illegal, by the way) industry’s growth.
Last Thursday, Toronto police raided 43 stores illegally selling marijuana across the city and people got mad. Pro-legalization activists basically took over the Toronto Police’s press conference about the bust.
But stoners, you’re focused on the wrong thing.
Growing 6 puny marijuana plants? That’s at least six months jail time.
Yes, people were angry when this bill was tabled.
A group of high-profile law enforcement officials from the United States even wrote an open letter to the Canadian Government that called these kind of mandatory minimum sentences “a costly failure”. Instead, they advocated for “the taxation and regulation of marijuana in Canada”.
But that bill imposing mandatory minimums for minor drug offenses was rammed through Parliament and the Senate, and is now law.
We don’t need cops to stop enforcing the law, we need the law to change.
It’s true, police are spending time and resources shutting down entrepreneurs in a market that’s very likely to open up in the near future.
But remember, it’s still illegal in Canada to sell pot. And it’s still police’s job to enforce the law.
Plus, by and large, people with the start-up capital to open boutique marijuana dispensaries are unlikely to be the same people who have borne the brunt of Canada’s mandatory minimums over the past 4 years.
There’s limited data about drug related offenses in Canada from after 2012, so it’s hard to know the precise impact that the omnibus bill is having on the Canadian justice system.
But here’s what we do know:
- From 2008–2012 (before mandatory minimums were in effect) over 32,000 Canadians were found guilty of possessing or supplying marijuana.
- In 2013 the majority of police-reported drug offenses involved cannabis.
- In the States, there are 95,000 people doing time for drug-related offenses. That’s more than half of the population of all U.S. federal prisons. In 1980s (in the early days U.S. mandatory minimums) there were less than 5,000 in jail for these types of crimes.
- Now, Canada doesn’t typically collect or publish race-based crime data — academics even allege that our country “effectively bans systematic collection and dissemination of racially disaggregated criminal justice statistics”. This is a serious problem because it stops us from getting a similar sense of how race plays out in our justice system.
But, we know that the prison system in the United States is highly racialized. For example, research shows that African Americans are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences.
We also know that race and racism is a thing in Canada, and in the justice system specifically. So I think it’s reasonable to conclude that mandatory minimums are likely having a negative impact on racialized Canadians — though I’d certainly advocate for more data to test that statement.
So stop whining about the cops doing their job and call your MP — hell, write the Prime Minister.
Yes, Canadian courts are already finding ways around or striking down the mandatory minimums judges find unreasonable — or even unconstitutional. And we know the current government is planning to table legislation to legalize and regulate pot next year.
That doesn’t mean it’s time to sit back and let the system figure it out.
Think pot should be legal? Stop trolling the police and tell the government.
Tell the government to keep people with six marijuana plants in their backyard out of jail, and our police forces focused on other more serious crimes.
Tell the government to make sure the industry is regulated so that your pot brownie isn’t laced with fentanyl or worse.
Tell the government to keep the market open so that it can’t be dominated by a government-run business and a corporate cartel — like the alcohol industry is in Ontario. Big, licensed marijuana dispensaries (#BigCanna) are already positioning themselves to influence the new law.
And if you feel like you need to mellow after the thrill of exercising your democratic rights, you can always stroll over to one of the 40-odd dispensaries in the 6ix that weren’t raided last week.
Also published on Medium.