Sunday, January 2, 2011

CN ON: Column: Where There's Smoke, There's Change


"I can't do it," the prospective juror said.  It happened in Missoula, Mont., this month and the state's case against a small-time pot dealer fell apart as prosecutors watched in dismay.  One after another, citizens told the court that marijuana was no big deal and as long as it wasn't "a pound or a truckload," it was wrong to jail a man for having it.

For once, the domino theory proved true; the collapse of one part of the system threatens the rest.  If you have to exclude a third of the population -- the ones who think pot is on a higher moral plane than coffee -- then it's hardly a jury of your peers, which brings the whole concept of jury trials into question, and thus many marijuana prosecutions.  That then takes Americans to an unfamiliar sunlit upland where jail is considered overly harsh, the three-strikes felony laws are a running sore and countless thousands of inmates convicted of minor drug crimes deserve to be released in the new year.

The legalization of marijuana is inevitable, especially in a country cursed by methamphetamine cooking and snorting.  If jurors in Illinois can acquit a Vietnam veteran who had 25 pounds of pot and 50 pounds of plants in his house and then gather round him to give him a hug, as happened this year, Americans are almost there.  As LaSalle County goes, so goes the nation.

Here in Canada, the mood is one of embarrassment.  The Conservatives long ago hitched their little wagon to George W.  Bush's tiny star and we are a decade behind the times.  Not only is Ottawa still trying to close a safe-injection drug center in downtown Vancouver, it is planning to spend $9 billion on new jails.

Canadians simply are not violent enough to fill those jails, statistics show.  We're getting progressively more peaceful.  So drug users and dealers are a big target market for Conservative tough-on-crimers.  It's an ideology thing.

But strangely, people who use the nastiest drug of all, alcohol, are home-free.  The angry old white guys who are the beating heart of the Conservative party are drinkers, and not charming ones like Rooster Cogburn in True Grit.  Regular Canadians smoke pot and smile beatifically.  As always, Conservatives get everything upside down.

I write this as New Year's Eve approaches, the biggest drinking night there is.  We drink lavishly, not with the same sense of purpose that Brits do, and not armed as Americans tend to.  ( But when we get sick on the sidewalk, it freezes and stays there till March.  This is no small drawback in this cold country, especially when it's pasta.  ) And we don't know when to stop, we are hateful, and horribly ill the next day, but that's okay because alcohol is a normalized drug and pot isn't, not yet.

How I wish Canadians who need a night off from their own head could legally smoke dope this New Year's Eve instead of drinking themselves faceless.  ( Confession: I quit smoking pot decades ago.  I miss it.  ) Wouldn't it be a pleasure to sit around with The Dude-like friends and stare at the tree quietly shedding its needles and the ornaments thumping as they slip off the drying branches.  Months pass.  And then we'd get inflamed over leftover goose skin and those President's Choice thingies, chocolate or chicken tikka, it's all the same deliciousness.  We could gaze rapt at the fireplace.  It need not have a fire in it.

I have a neighbor who is an alcoholic of 50 years standing and it isn't pleasant to see or hear.  Think of the physical damage of a half-century of gin, the health-care costs, the stricken children, the bad smells, a life all over but the shouting.  I'd have preferred decades of pot smoke drifting out over the lake, and probably so would she, given the choice.

Perhaps one day we'll have that choice. 

Newshawk: Herb
Votes: 0
Pubdate: Wed, 29 Dec 2010
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2010 The Toronto Star
Author: Heather Mallick


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