Rumour has it that many decades ago the inlets and waterways surrounding Westham Island were useful to more than just ducks and migratory birds. During prohibition, rumour is that fast speedboats were able to make runs between Canada and alcohol-free U.S., eluding the RCMP and American police. Prohibition proved to be a flawed policy and we now see alcohol available in a wide variety of retail stores and in almost every restaurant.
Much more recently five former and current mayors of Vancouver have declared it's time to reconsider the laws against marijuana. They state that organized crime has accumulated billions of dollars from running an underground economy supplying marijuana to many in our society who see it as "no big deal" to consume.
They declare that if the billions we now spend trying to chase and stop this trade were redirected to reducing the damage from hard drugs, and marijuana was taxed and sold like alcohol, we would be better off - economically and as a society.
All five mayors, including Philip Owen, have called for the legalization. He cites the failure of the 1906 Opium Act that was designed to stop drug importation and consumption. Today 65,000 die from alcohol and tobacco poisoning in Canada yet the government allows both substances and taxes them heavily. In Mexico, last year 15,000 people were killed in gang wars over who would control the drug trade.
Why is this concerning us just now? The Harper government is in the process of spending $2.3 billion to expand prison capacity in Canada and send more people to prison. Right now cells meant for one are being used by two and sometimes three people due to overcrowding.
More prisons plus tougher sentences resulting in more convicts are the Harper government's answer to fighting crime, including marijuana trafficking.
The mayors argue we need to stop prohibiting and start to learn how to manage/control marijuana, a non-toxic substance compared to either tobacco or alcohol. If we do we will reduce crime and gangs by a very significant proportion.
We can then tax the marijuana sold and use the billions from those taxes for fighting crime. With marijuana being controlled there would be are fewer gangs and less crime, so we won't need all those prisons.
Texas, that rough and ready state that chooses to execute prisoners frequently, has discovered that prisons are not the answer to crime. They are emptying their prisons and sending the convicts on programs designed to prepare them to become law-abiding citizens again. Texans learned the hard way - just ask them.
One continuing problem is the mentally ill who are in prison. One in five inmates is ill and treatments are way below standard - and getting worse. Canada has a miserable record of dealing with this challenge.
So what's to lose from treating marijuana like tobacco or alcohol? Our local MP, Kerry-Lynne Findlay, has landed the job of secretary to minister of justice and has the portfolio of guiding the Harper "Tough on Crime" plan through Parliament. It's time to ask her!