I was recently introduced to a position paper by Jeff Wheeldon, who ran for the Green Party in the Manitoba riding of Provencher. He came in third in a three person race. At some level, however, I would have been pleased if he had won as he clearly understands the nature of morality in legislation.
Wheeldon's paper Morality, Marijuana and Legislation offers a good lesson in the intricacies of the laws of our land. Our newly elected law-makers would do well to read it before they consider dumping more laws on an unsuspecting public.
Wheeldon pointed out that our law is often based on morals, but it is just as often based on social and political goals, needs (e.g., funding needs require taxes), and bad precedents (i.e., a lot of legislation is in place to clean up other legislation). Not everything that is against the law is necessarily immoral, and not everything that is immoral is illegal (e.g., adultery).
In order to have just legislation, Wheeldon wrote, it must be both just and enforceable, and must not have unintended consequences or results that cause harm. A law that is itself unjust (e.g., discriminatory, exploitative or immoral) should not exist. But a just law that cannot hope to be enforced is also wrong, as it undermines the value of the law in general and sets up mixed expectations regarding law enforcement.
The main thrust of Wheeldon's paper is, of course, in support of legalizing marijuana. Do we want police to be the sole touchstone for this societal issue? We must also debate whether we should dispense with a law on moral grounds before the facts of the matter are fully disclosed and understood.
Before we look at legalizing pot, we must consider that advocates do not speak of how to control people who drive and smoke weed. Studies show the drug distorts time and distance so now we are back to police controlling drivers who partake in a recreational drug. So much for the promised reduction in enforcement costs.
Another issue not addressed is how to handle the new health issues. Cigarettes are bad enough but now we want to compound this by encouraging the use of another toxic substance, putting more pressure on our already cash strapped health system. Cops will be happy... until legislators pass laws limiting the sale and use of marijuana, to be enforced by our already cash strapped police agencies.
Want more? Growing tobacco is not easy. It takes expertise to handle the painstaking job of pulling the bottom leaves first, storing them properly to age, etc. Producing alcohol also requires expertise.
There's a reason they call pot a weed. Just about anyone can grow it. Legalization advocates promise millions in new taxes from happy users. As with contraband cigarettes widely available under the counter at a store near you users would be even happier to buy their pot tax free. Combating that tax avoidance will cost plenty, eating up more of the promised enforcement savings.
THC is fat soluble. It stays in the system and does not easily purge from the body. Alcohol does and leaves abusers with a painful reminder of their over imbibing. All a THC abuser has to do is go on a diet and the gift of legalized pot keeps on giving as the pounds burn off. A couple of high flashes and another person on the road is killed. Another hit on the promised savings in enforcement costs.
In a cold and callous way I would prefer other jurisdictions take the chances. We should thank Washington, Colorado and now British Columbia for their look-the-other-way attitude. Studies are beginning to give us a picture of what happens when we encourage our kids to smoke pot (because the word legalized tells them so) and perhaps now we will get a clearer picture of its true effects on society. However, they (and we) must assume a doctrine of acceptable losses of human life. Are the politicians ready to do so?
We can learn from all this and, given what we currently know, institute effective countermeasures before legalization. I suggest we begin with compulsory blood tests for motorists. Of course, this can only be done after determining the level of THC we will tolerate on a permanent basis. Once the threshold of accumulated THC-to-fat ratio has been determined, motorists exceeding it must be banned for life or until their levels magically return to, uh... normal.
I have often said that most of a cop's job is keeping people from their own misadventure. Keep ratcheting up the opportunities for misadventure and cops will always be gainfully employed, and in ever increasing numbers.
To my friends who pontificate about legalizing marijuana, and any other drug de jure, remember that it's easy to talk about the morality of creating or dispensing with legislation but quite another when the boots hit the ground. At the other end of it all saving tax dollars will never be in the mix.