BOOTH: Inconsistency on pot’s legality is no longer amusing

Aclear, bright spring day is always the kick in the butt needed to get people off the couch and out into the streets and parks of the Lower Mainland.

Suitably motivated, I found myself roaming the streets of Gastown recently after wandering along the seawall through Coal Harbour. As it happened, the cruise ships were in town, bringing with them an endless parade of tourists. They flocked to the T-shirt shops or waited expectantly by the steam clock, while others parked themselves in sidewalk cafes.

Now, along with the tourists, there was also another noticeable presence that day – the pungent, skunky aroma of British Columbia’s most lucrative cash crop. So I should not have been surprised when, while waiting at a traffic light, a fellow with a thick European accent turned and asked me if marijuana was legal here.

Being the helpful local, I did my best to answer as truthfully as possible.

"I don’t know."

"Sorry," the fellow replied. "I thought you were from here."

"I am," I said, "but I really can’t tell if the stuff is legal or illegal anymore. It depends on who and where you are."

And as I crossed the street, I left the poor soul just as bewildered as I found him.

In today’s Canadian society, demon weed just isn’t as evil as it once was. Where there was once a time when the only whiff of pot smoke we caught was at concerts, the distinct smell is now just as likely to drift past our noses outside hockey rinks and baseball diamonds, in public parks, while walking through a neighbourhood or exploring the great outdoors at campgrounds.

Police insist marijuana is illegal and spend countless millions demolishing grow ops and arresting dealers and users alike. At the same time, police officers block off traffic on public streets to ease access for people joining in on the annual 4/20 pot smoke-ins each April.

Medical marijuana clinics are becoming increasingly common for those savvy enough to acquire a permit and there are now vending machines in approved dispensaries that offer a wide selection of pot strains.

Just minutes away across the U.S. border, Washington State is taking steps to implement regulations allowing the sale of marijuana to any adult looking to indulge in the hippie lettuce, while thousands of Canadians face endless hassles crossing that same border because of simple pot possession charges at some point in their youth.

If anything, legal access to marijuana is about to get easier.

Up until this year, Canadians could only legally gain access to the coveted weed if they were approved as treatment for a medical condition. That process was a long and tedious one through the federal government’s Health Canada bureaucracy.

As of April 1, however, that power has been transferred to doctors, who can issue permission for medical marijuana use directly to their patients.

According to the Province newspaper, there are roughly 40,000 Canadians licensed to use medicinal marijuana, but that number is expected to explode by a multiple of 10 in the next decade. That’s right, almost half a million people in this country could freely indulge in the mystical herb without the legal consequences faced by the rest of the population.

And the people charged with screening who gets access to government pot and who takes their chances with the skuzzy dope dealer hanging out by the SkyTrain station? Doctors – medical professionals who, I suspect, have much better things to do with their time. At this point, the difference between a drug-addled criminal and a good citizen looking to relax is one has a note from his doctor.

So what is it? If marijuana is legal, treat it like other government controlled substances such as alcohol and tobacco: Limit access to adults only and tax the living bejeebers out of it.

If, however, it’s illegal, then cut out the nonsense and make it illegal for everyone – no exceptions.

This ongoing charade is no longer amusing and the public money used to stage the ongoing morality play can definitely be put to better use by all levels of government.

Michael Booth can be reached via email at mbooth@thenownewspaper.com

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