Thursday, January 8, 2009

Decriminalization at Home has Implications Overseas

...if you call Canada 'overseas', that is. And we're fine with that!

Over the years, Canada has, unfortunately, adopted the 'war on drugs' that their southern neighbors held so dear. Their policies are still much more progressive than those in the US, but talk of decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana in Canada is usually abandoned due to the complications that would provide with US law.

All that falls apart, though, when states in the US (like Massachusetts) start decriminalizing marijuana. As the Vancouver Sun reports, changes like these might allow foreign countries (such as Canada) to ease up on their drug polices. (Unfortunately, the opposite is happening between The Netherlands and Germany).

What's really interesting about this article is the tone. Generally, US journalism about the war on drugs is bent towards the status quo (ie, against decriminalization), with the very notable exception of liberal, niche-market newspapers. Note the way that the Sun reports on the implications of changing marijuana policies, and the statistics that they cite. It's only one example, but it provides a stunning contrast with the vast majority of the articles I have read about Question 2 (and I've read almost every single one written in the last month on the subject).

In Canada, drugs are a provincial matter (just as they are a statewide matter here), and British Columbia laws regarding possession and drug use are far, far better than what most states in the US have adopted (and, in some ways, better than any state in the US). And the sky hasn't fallen there yet, has it?

And just in case you missed it in the article:

Among 15- to 19-year-olds in B.C., occasional and regular use of cannabis is higher than is tobacco use. The lifetime use of cannabis in B.C. for those 15 and over is 52.1 per cent, the highest in Canada.

First of all, the lifetime use statistic is slightly higher than the one I generally see quoted for the US (and it surpasses the 50% benchmark!), but that's not surprising. In order for these studies to report data, people have to admit to use, and local drug laws (or local culture and societal norms, which influence local drug laws), might dissuade a person from admitting their past use.

But more importantly - the newspaper actually reported the statistic. I would challenge you all to search Google news for 'Massachusetts marijuana' and go through each article until you find a statistic such as that.

And this is an important lesson for us activists - while political pressure (in the form of letters, phonebanking, etc.) is a good tactic, the media does control public perception, which in turn controls voting preferences, which in turn controls political pressure. Thus, putting pressure on media outlets is just as important as putting pressure on politicians, lest we forget.

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