NORML Statement to UN NGO Consultation on Narcotic Drugs
(Vancouver, Feb 4th-5th 2008)
Public Comments of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) In Response to the Recommendations of the
Jamaican National Commission on Ganja
Since 1970, The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has served as a voice for marijuana consumers in the ongoing national and international debates over marijuana policy. The organization, along with its sister organization, the NORML Foundation, seeks through public education, lobbying and public advocacy to: overcome the unfair negative stereotype of marijuana smokers, offer alternatives to criminal prohibition, and sway public and political opinion sufficiently so that the responsible use of cannabis by adults is no longer subject to penalty.
|Help NORML Legalize Ganja in Jamaica|
NORML read with great interest the findings of the 2001 Report of the National Commission on Ganja 1, and applauds the Commission's diligence and the expert guidance it lends to the matter of decriminalizing marijuana in Jamaica. Before responding specifically to the Commission's recommendations, NORML would first like to provide some background on the topic of marijuana decriminalization, and its adoption as a public policy throughout the world.
Over the past four decades, the issue of marijuana policy has been thoroughly investigated and debated. Federally appointed commissions in the United States 2, Great Britain 3, Canada 4, Australia 5, New Zealand 6, Switzerland 7 and elsewhere have conducted inquiries on the subject, and universally these commissions have recommended amending federal law so that the possession and personal use of marijuana by adults is no longer an offense punishable by arrest or incarceration. This policy, known as "decriminalization," removes the drug user (and, in most cases, any non-profit distributor) from the criminal justice system, while simultaneously maintaining criminal penalties against those who sell or traffic large quantities of illicit drugs.
Nations throughout the globe have enacted various forms of marijuana decriminalization, and in some cases, legalization. For example, adults no longer face criminal penalties for possessing and using marijuana in countries as such Spain, Italy, Portugal, Belgium, Germany, Croatia, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, among others. 8 In Australia, several states 9 have enacted regional decriminalization policies, and in the United States, more than ten states have had marijuana decriminalization laws on the books for the past 25 years. 10 In addition, governments in Canada, Great Britain and France have recently announced that they will soon be implementing decriminalization policies nationwide. 11
Despite opponents' concerns that marijuana decriminalization might lead to an increase in marijuana use, national and international studies have found this belief to be unwarranted. For example, a recent study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry examining marijuana prevalence in the Netherlands -- where federal law allows for the regulated sale and use of cannabis for those over 16 years of age -- compared to that of other nations concluded, "The Dutch experience, together with those of a few other countries with more modest policy changes, provides a moderately good empirical case that removal of criminal prohibitions on cannabis possession (decriminalization) will not increase the prevalence of marijuana or any other illicit drug; the argument for decriminalization is thus strong." 12
A similar comparison study conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology also found that decriminalizing marijuana had no adverse impact on cannabis consumption. "The different laws which govern the use and sale of marijuana do not appear to have resulted in substantially different outcomes if we view those outcomes solely in terms of consumption patterns," the study's authors found. 13 And in the United States, a federally commissioned study by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research concluded that decriminalization has "had virtually no effect on either the marijuana use or on the related attitudes and beliefs about marijuana use among young people." 14
In sum, marijuana decriminalization has a long and successful history as a public policy throughout the globe, and does not lead to an increase in the prevalence of marijuana use.
MARIJUANA DECRIMINALIZATION IN JAMAICA: AN ANALYSIS OF THE RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE NATIONAL COMMISSION ON GANJA
Having examined the issue of marijuana decriminalization in general, NORML will now comment specifically on the National Commission's recommendations regarding the decriminalization of cannabis in Jamaica.
"THE RELEVANT LAWS BE AMENDED SO THAT GANJA BE DECRIMINALISED FOR PRIVATE, PERSONAL USE OF SMALL QUANTITIES BY ADULTS"
NORML supports this recommendation of the Commission wholeheartedly. Marijuana is far less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco, and fails to inflict the types of serious health consequences these two legal drugs cause. For example, in the United States, approximately 46,000 people die each year from alcohol-induced deaths (not including motor vehicle fatalities where alcohol impairment was a contributing factor), such as overdose and cirrhosis. 15 Similarly, more than 440,000 premature deaths annually are attributed to tobacco smoking. 16 By comparison, marijuana is non-toxic and cannot cause death by overdose. 17 In a large-scale U.S. population study of marijuana use and mortality published in the American Journal of Public Health, marijuana use, even long-term, "showed little if any effect … on non-AIDS mortality in men and on total mortality in women." 18 And according to the prestigious European medical journal, The Lancet, "The smoking of cannabis, even long-term, is not harmful to health. 19 … It would be reasonable to judge cannabis as less of a threat … than alcohol or tobacco." 20
Additional concerns regarding marijuana's perceived public health and safety risks have also proven false under scientific scrutiny. For example, a 2002 Canadian Senate special select committee report concluded that: marijuana is not a gateway to the use of hard drugs 21; marijuana use does not lead to the commission of crime 22; marijuana users are unlikely to become dependent 23; and marijuana use alone has little negative impact on driving. 24
After having considered this evidence, NORML believes that any minor health and safety risk presented by marijuana smoking falls within the ambit of choice we permit the individual in a free society. Therefore, NORML maintains -- as does this Commission -- that cannabis' low risk potential fails to justify its criminal prohibition. Responsible adult marijuana smokers present no legitimate threat or danger to society, and there is no reason for the federal law to define them as criminals. To do so is to wage war without cause against a significant segment of Jamaica's adult population.
NORML further agrees with the Commission's finding that criminalizing marijuana use despite its relative safety is a misapplication of the criminal sanction and inspires disrespect for the rule of law. The Commission writes:
"The Commission takes the view that, ironically, the criminal status of ganja poses a serious danger to society. By alienating and criminalising hundreds of thousands of otherwise law-abiding citizens, and by making the State in their view an instrument of their oppression rather than their protection, the law and its prosecution create in them disrespect for the rule of law. When the rule of law goes, anarchy sets in. Any law that brings the rule of law into disrepute is itself a threat to the stability of society." 25
NORML concurs with this conclusion. If the expressed purpose of the criminal law is to deter or at least significantly discourage behavior, then by this standard alone, Jamaica's marijuana laws have been a categorical failure. Marijuana use in Jamaica remains widespread 26 despite the enforcement of criminal laws outlawing its use, and federal studies indicate that neither the criminal law, nor the threat of arrest, significantly influence one's decision to use marijuana. 27 Nevertheless, the Jamaican government continues to enforce criminal prohibition -- a decision that has led to the arrest, incarceration and disenfranchisement of tens of thousand of Jamaicans, while having little, if any, impact on the prevalence of cannabis use.
Moreover, the use of marijuana has long been entrenched in Jamaican culture, and a policy of decriminalization would be a first and well-advised step in reflecting this cultural reality. By decriminalizing the personal possession and use of marijuana, Parliament would remove the responsible adult marijuana smoker beyond the reach of the criminal justice system, and end the State's needless destruction of the lives and careers of tens of thousands of otherwise law-abiding citizens whose only "crime" is that they prefer cannabis to relax rather than alcohol. Decriminalization would acknowledge that the responsible use of marijuana poses little health or safety threat, and that its use as a medicine, intoxicant, and a sacrament is an established part of the Jamaican culture. Finally, marijuana decriminalization would address the inequity that governs the legalization and control of tobacco and alcohol while simultaneously prohibiting the use of cannabis -- a policy that the Commission correctly points out "cannot be rationally justified" and, as such, engenders disrespect for the rule of law in general -- particularly among young people.
"DECRIMINALISATION FOR PERSONAL USE SHOULD EXCLUDE SMOKING BY JUVENILES OR BY ANYONE IN PREMISES ACCESSIBLE TO THE PUBLIC"
Marijuana smoking is for adults only, and is inappropriate for children. 28 Therefore NORML supports the Commission's recommendation that marijuana be decriminalized for adults but remain off-limits for children. (Under such a system, minors who illegally possess or consume marijuana would still face strict civil penalties, such as fines and community service.) There are many activities in our society that are permissible for adults, but forbidden for children, such as gambling, skydiving, signing contracts, getting married, drinking alcohol or smoking tobacco. However, we as a society do not condone arresting adults who responsibly engage in these activities in order to dissuade our children from doing so. Nor can we justify arresting adult marijuana smokers on the grounds of sending a "message" to children. Our expectation and hope for young people is that they grow up to be civic-minded, responsible adults, and our obligation to them is to demonstrate what that means. NORML believes that a system of marijuana decriminalization -- whereby the responsible use of marijuana by adults is no longer a criminal offense, but criminal acts committed while under the drug's influence (such as driving while impaired) remain illegal -- adequately and rationally presents this message better than does the current Jamaican policy of blanket prohibition.
"GANJA SHOULD BE DECRIMINALIZED FOR USE AS A SACRAMENT FOR RELIGIOUS PURPOSES"
The Commission found that many Jamaicans hold strong, sincere beliefs that marijuana is a "substance given by God to be used as mankind sees fit." 29 Therefore, the Commission recommends that the use of marijuana for religious purposes no longer be a crime. NORML agrees with the Commission's recommendation, noting that religious freedom is one of the foundations of a free society, and that marijuana's low risk to public health and safety fails to justify any governmental intrusion into the public's ability to freely practice their religion however they see fit.
"A SUSTAINED ALL-MEDIA, ALL-SCHOOLS EDUCATION PROGRAMME AIMED AT DEMAND REDUCTION ACCOMPANY THE PROCESS OF DECRIMINALISATION AND THAT ITS TARGET SHOULD BE, IN THE MAIN, YOUNG PEOPLE"
NORML agrees with this recommendation, adding once again, that the possession and use of marijuana is for responsible adults and not children. It would be our expectation that under a decriminalized system, drug education programs dedicated toward preventing young people from experimenting with marijuana would move in a more health-and-science based direction, such as those in the United States of America that currently dissuade teens from trying tobacco or driving under the influence of alcohol. These latter campaigns, which rely on scientific facts and health concerns have effectively reduced undesirable teenage behavior whereas similar government-financed ad campaigns targeting adolescent marijuana use which rely on hyperbole and scare-tactics, have not.
It is NORML's further expectation that any future federally sponsored drug education programs will immediately be seen as more credible in the eyes of young people once the government has acknowledged marijuana's relative safety and has legally distinguished it from harder, more dangerous drugs such as cocaine and heroin.
"SECURITY FORCES INTENSIFY THEIR INTERDICTION OF LARGE CULTIVATION OF GANJA AND TRAFFICKING OF ILLEGAL DRUGS, IN PARTICULAR CRACK/COCAINE"
Decriminalization would free millions of dollars in police and prosecutorial resources that are currently used to target, prosecute and jail minor marijuana offenders, while potentially raising additional revenue through the use of civil fines. NORML agrees with the Commission that marijuana decriminalization would -- and should -- free up criminal justice resources to target other more serious crimes, and allow law enforcement to focus on the highest echelons of hard-drug trafficking enterprises rather than on minor marijuana offenders who represent little -- if any -- threat to public safety.
"JAMAICA EMBARK ON DIPLOMATIC INITIATIVES WITH ... COUNTRIES OUTSIDE THE REGION, IN PARTICULAR, MEMBERS OF THE EUROPEAN UNION, WITH A VIEW (A) TO ELICIT SUPPORT FOR ITS INTERNAL POSITION, AND (B) INFLUENCE THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY TO RE-EXAMINE THE STATUS OF CANNABIS"
NORML supports the Commission's call for a worldwide review of marijuana policy, and notes that such a re-examination is already taking place. As noted earlier in this testimony, nations throughout the globe are abandoning criminal penalties for the possession and use of marijuana in favor of decriminalization, or in some cases, legalization. Within the past years, marijuana decriminalization has become law in the countries of Belgium, Portugal, Luxembourg, and Croatia, among others, and will soon be the national policy of Great Britain, France, and Canada. In addition, both the Netherlands and Switzerland have explored various forms of cannabis regulation, and both Canada and the Netherlands have recently adopted policies allowing for the federal distribution and regulation of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
In addition, it is worth noting that the majority of these countries have liberalized their marijuana laws despite being signatories of international drug treaties, in particular the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. While proponents of marijuana prohibition have often argued that these treaty obligations require signatories to adhere to a rigid national policy of criminal marijuana prohibition, several studies have concluded that these treaties do not prohibit countries from relaxing legal restrictions on the personal use or cultivation of marijuana.
Most recently, a legal study released by the British think-tank DrugScope concluded that governments have "considerable room for maneuver under the terms of the three drug control Conventions," adding that the treaties allow for measures such as "education, rehabilitation and social reintegration … [to] be substituted for conviction and penal sanction" in drug cases. 30 Authors noted that many European nations have replaced criminal penalties for minor drug crimes with "administrative sanctions" without running afoul with U.N. treaties by either calling on "constitutional principles, principles of proportionality or public interest criteria with regard to use or possession offenses which are considered minor in nature, [or by invoking their] right … to apply alternatives to punishment for offenses which have been established as punishable." 31
Other studies, including the United States' First Report of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse, have reached similar conclusions, concluding that the word "possession" in Article 36 of the Single Convention "refers not to possession for personal use, but to possession as a link to illicit trafficking." 32
Responsible marijuana smokers present no legitimate threat or danger to society, and must not be treated as criminals. By stubbornly defining all marijuana smoking as criminal, including that which involves adults smoking within the privacy of their own homes, Jamaica is wasting precious police and prosecutorial resources; clogging the courts; filling costly and scarce jail and prison space that would otherwise house violent offenders; undermining drug education efforts; acting against the best interests of public health and safety; engendering disrespect for the rule of law; and needlessly wrecking the lives and careers of tens of thousands of otherwise law-abiding citizens every year.
NORML thanks the Commission on Ganja for their diligent work on this issue, and applauds their recommendation to amend Jamaican federal law to allow for the private, personal use of small quantities of marijuana by adults. Finally, as the NORML organization is internationally recognized as an expert of the subject of marijuana and marijuana policy, we would welcome the opportunity to provide additional testimony to the Jamaican Parliament on this matter if and when future hearings are convened.
Proceedings of the Special Committee on Illegal Drugs
Testimony of Timothy Hamption
President, Saskatchewan NORML
May 13, 2002
The Chairman: Thank you, again, for reading our material and answering our questions. It was a great pleasure to hear your remarks.
We will now hear Mr. Timothy Hampton from NORML Saskatechewan.
Mr. Timothy Hampton, President, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws: I would like to say how much we welcome the opportunity to address this committee. It has been a long time coming. The NORML Steering Committee specifically want me to thank you on their behalf.
I am speaking here today on behalf of millions of Canadian cannabis users who are tired of being pursued, prosecuted and proclaimed criminals for their recreational use of a mild herbal euphoric. This is not some esoteric extract manufactured through proscribed alchemy, but a plant that grows worldwide. Cannabis has been used on a medicinal and social basis from time immemorial and, in itself, is neither good nor evil — a status shared by other items common in our society.
Assignment of moral characteristics to an object is neither logical nor acceptable. Sex, shopping, alcohol and food can be used or misused and, when dealing with compulsive or addictive behaviour, anything could be a medical or social problem. Compulsive eaters risk high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes and heart disease, but the ill effects of their personal choices are treated as a medical problem, not as a clarion call for the criminalization of chocolate.
Irresponsible alcohol use kills, sometimes the user, sometimes innocent bystanders, but I hear no calls for a liquor prohibition.
Addicted gamblers regularly steal hundreds of thousands of dollars to feed their need, but I see no appeals to stop the lotteries or close the casinos.
Devotees of tobacco are enslaved to this horribly addictive, deadly and stinky drug. Do we ban it? No, we regulate its sale, provide quality control and tax the crap out of it. In an attempt to grab a bigger piece of the nicotine pie Quebec raised tobacco taxes to such a degree that the residents of the Akwesasne Reserve began smuggling Canadian cigarettes back into Canada from the United States. Their motivation was the margin of profitability conferred by prohibition. The attendant violence that was visited upon that community and others was rooted in profit and not in the tobacco fields of Tillsonburg.
The profits associated with prohibition or extreme taxation breed organized crime and violence, as we have seen with the illicit alcohol, tobacco and drug trade. It makes little difference what the substance is, as the primary motivation of organized criminal gangs is profit.
It is really quite simple, if a large group of people all want an item that is in short supply, profiteers quickly appear. If they cannot or will not fulfill the demand, the price remains artificially high. How do you bring the price down and drive the smugglers out of the market? Increase supply. The size of the market remains static.
When supply and demand have found their levels, the qualities that attract the profiteers are no more. Fair taxation and adequate regulation leave the shadows in which smugglers hide that much smaller.
We have a tremendous problem with alcohol abuse in Canada, but I hear nothing of the mob taking over the homemade beer industry, or that illicit trade in 12-year-old rhubarb wine has resulted in numerous gangland slayings. Why not? It is because there is no substantial profit to be made due to extreme taxation or prohibition.
The Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Commission tell me that there is no limit to how much wine I can make for my own use. By the way, I think they were wrong, I think it is 500 gallons a year. Anyway, they tell me I can make 10,000 litres a year, invite all my friends over and drink ourselves into insensibility, if we are so inclined. Alternatively, I can make 10 litres and have a glass with dinner. It is all legal, as long as I do not take it public. If I want to make it for distribution, I must apply for a permit, follow the rigorous rules and open my doors for inspection on demand.
Let us face facts: alcohol, tobacco and cannabis are here to stay. Their use can be regulated and reduced by education, but not eliminated by prosecution. Eighty years of prohibition have done nothing to decrease the popularity of cannabis, and where there is demand there will be supply.
I do not want to waste the committee's time by repeating testimony that has already been heard, but let me say that study after study shows that the detrimental social and medical effects from cannabis use are, at worst, minor. Certainly, none that might warrant the huge allocation of justice system resources that cannabis prohibition currently claims. Let us use our courts and police for real criminals and real problems.
Police departments in Canada are quick to drag out the ``drug problem'' and use it to justify requests for increased funding for equipment and staff. In reality, cannabis prohibition laws are enforced erratically and arbitrarily, with only a percentage of those found in possession of cannabis making their way to court. One of the major determinative factors in the follow-through of criminal charges is the demeanour of the accused. Criminal law enforcement in Canada cannot be inconsistent or contingent on the whims of an individual officer.
At noon on May 5, 2001, 300 ``criminals'' gathered on the street in front of the Saskatoon City Police station and demanded to be arrested for the criminal acts they were openly committing and admitting to. Saskatoon City Police refused to arrest them. Why? The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act finds cannabis trafficking to be such a serious criminal act that it provides for life imprisonment.
If the members of the Canadian Police Association really practiced the position that they took in their brief to this committee, they would not have to hide behind the lame excuses proffered to the Saskatchewan Police Complaint Investigator when called to task for their failure to abide by their sworn oaths.
Let me tell you about one of the people present that day. Her name is Lorie Johnson. She is married to a man named Ernest Rogalsky. They were arrested for breach of Canada's cannabis prohibition laws. Although Mr. Rogalsky felt that the actions of the peace officer involved were not in keeping with the basic precepts of the rule of law, he pled guilty and was incarcerated. He did this for two reasons: The price of an adequate defence started at $50,000, more than the sum of his net worth; and he was unwilling to let his wife face the possibility of also being jailed. As a result of this ``bargain'' the charges against Ms Johnson were dropped.
Two months later, Ms Johnson stood on the steps of the police station of the very force that had been responsible for her arrest and her husband's incarceration, and committed the very same crime for which she had been brought before the court. She did so without molestation then or later.
The absolute bedrock on which we base our legal system is the rule of law. It is the benchmark that Aristotle worked from, and it is the first line of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. One of the basic precepts of the rule of law is that it must be applied equally. This is not to say that Canadian jurisprudence does not allow for some regional disparities. Given that, the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics for 1999 shows that 17 per cent of cannabis prohibition offences in British Columbia were pursued through to the courts; while in Saskatchewan 76 per cent suffered the same fate. This disparity of numbers is not attributable to regional differences in standards of prosecutorial discretion but has an identifiable cause.
The arbitrary application of Canadian criminal law is not in keeping with the spirit of the Charter, not the specifics contained in section 15.
While I am speaking of equality, I would point out the lack of it when you look at the punishments set out in the Criminal Code for various criminal offences. Section 163.1 of the Criminal Code demands that anyone who makes and sells child pornography be jailed for a maximum of 10 years. Breach Canada's cannabis prohibition laws and you can go to jail for life. Section 160(3) states that if you commit bestiality in the presence of a child or force a child to participate, you can go to jail for a maximum of 14 years. Breach Canada's cannabis prohibition laws and you can go to jail for life. Section 151 states that if you sexually molest a child you can go to jail for a maximum of 10 years. Breach Canada's cannabis prohibition laws and you can go to jail for life.
There is something wrong with a justice system that provides for these obviously unacceptable differences in sentencing parameters. To suggest, even by inference, that participation in Canada's cannabis culture is a crime worthy of greater sanction than the previously mentioned criminal acts is an affront to common sense and to cannabis users everywhere.
It is plain that the time has come for a new approach to the interaction between Canadian cannabis culture and our government. Clearly, prohibition is not an effective tool for regulating access and a new, mutually agreeable contract must be forged between afficianadoes and the state.
In doing so, we must take into account a few crucial factors. Proposed regulations must address status, access, profiteering, quality control and American reaction.
Do we decriminalize? Substitute one law for another with what amounts to an across-the-board reduction in penalties? If we were to take that approach, the fundamental problems with the influence of profiteers and organized crime, with its associated violence and lack of regulation, would remain unaddressed, not to mention the continued drain on our police departments, justice system and correctional facilities.
Do we legalize? Do we follow the existing guidelines for the production and sale of alcohol and tobacco and hand regulation over to the provincial jurisdiction? Do we look to the Excise Act for guidance? One point that must be included in any proposed contract is the opportunity for the recreational user to legally participate in Canada's cannabis culture. Do we meld the two and make recreational cannabis permitted under a licencing system?
At this point in time, only those exempt under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act can legally possess cannabis. The truth is that, every day, millions of Canadians buy, sell and smoke cannabis. Some do it for medical reasons, most for recreational purposes.
People buy it on the street or in a pub. They sometimes phone a service and have it delivered. They might stop by a friend's house and bum a jay or two. If they are brave and prepared to risk incarceration, they can just step into their garden and cut a couple of buds. They are plumbers, social workers, teachers, farmers, mothers, miners, fathers and fishermen. We smoke pot and we are not about to stop. As humans on this planet, we have the unalienable right to enjoy the fruits of it. Canadian citizens will continue to use cannabis, period.
Currently, the Canadian market is supplied by domestic production, with a small amount of specialty cannabis products coming in from offshore. Most domestically produced cannabis is destined for the Canadian market, but a portion is cultivated strictly for export.
Seventy-five per cent of the cannabis found in the marketplace will have been grown indoors by individuals or organized groups. The remaining 25 per cent is grown outdoors, mainly in B.C., Ontario and Quebec. Their production ranges from a few pounds a year that flows into the local market, to hundreds of pounds that move through the market by way of long-established distribution networks.
The small grower, by far the most common, working with one or two lights, may produce a kilo every two or three months. More intensive methods will, of course, increase that. His gross would be about $6,000 and his expenses — house, power, growing supplies and pot smoked — would leave a small net profit, at the most $2,000.
His product would be purchased by a salesperson who probably buys from half-a-dozen small growers who are in the same position as Mr. X. These people are not entirely motivated by profit, seeking instead to promote a substance they believe should be legally available. This homegrown is of good quality and provides the grower with a personal supply that he does not have to purchase. In essence, he is growing to supply his own needs but releasing his surplus into the market.
Once in the salesperson's hands it is sold directly to the consumer at $30 or $40 for an eighth-of-an-ounce or multiples of. Among younger people or on the street you will see it sold in single grams for $10 to $20. Ounces are sold for $250 to $300; a pound selling for $2,600 to $3,600. Ounces and quarter-pounds may be resold in smaller amounts. The only control is the distributor's conscience.
If one wishes to purchase some cannabis, most smokers are happy to oblige. Trafficking is part and parcel of cannabis use and one is placed at substantial legal risk each time a transaction is engaged in, as the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act provides for life imprisonment for trafficking in cannabis. It helps to have a good reputation within the community, although, for the most part, people are very trusting.
It is at this level that youth come into contact with cannabis. A 25-year-old has no problem selling a bag to a 20- year-old, but he would never sell one to a 16-year-old. The 20-year-old would never sell a bag to a 15-year-old but would sell one to a 17-year-old, and so on. Regulation may not totally eliminate this problem, but it is a good start.
The larger facilities that are producing on a commercial basis tend to be operated by well-established groups who are confident in their cohorts and lines of distribution. While some of these groups may be specifically aligned by cultural or social parameters, at least 50 per cent of the market share belongs to loose-knit confederacies of like-minded individuals who all need each other to function productively. They may or may not be friends, but their bona fides must be in order.
These groups do not fit the traditional definition of organized crime, as they are really non-structured, with participation left to each individual. Even thought they are not organized crime, these people are very capable of producing large amounts of high-quality cannabis on a regular basis, with 30 pounds in a 10- to 12-week crop not unheard of. This product is mostly destined for the domestic market.
This translates as $75,000 net, which would then be cut up between the principals. Given the large amounts of money that are being generated and the general air of paranoia that permeates any illegal business, it is here where contractual disputes take place. Violence is not predominant within these groups, but it does exist. The most common form of punishment for breach of contract, or ratting out, is ostracization.
These groups make money from pot, but they are partially motivated by a belief that cannabis should be available to anyone who wants it. This group is split on legalization.
The other 50 per cent of the larger growing groups fall squarely in the organized crime category. They are rigid and powerful hierarchies that are strictly profit orientated and have no allegiance to anything but themselves. It is within these groups that we find day-to-day violence to be an accepted way of doing business.
A large portion of this market share is destined for export, where it is sometimes traded for cocaine and heroin or, at the very least, American dollars. There is a huge demand for Canadian cannabis in the U.S. and they are prepared to pay a premium for the best, delivered across the line.
Increased security in the wake of September 11, 2001 has led to an increase in the cost of transport of $1,000 per pound, but this has not reduced the traffic across the border. Legalizing cannabis would not hamstring these groups, as they have their fingers in many pies, but it would eliminate from the marketplace an untraceable medium of exchange. These groups do not want cannabis or any other drug legalized, as there is far too much money to be made in profiteering.
It is very clear that the United States of America, on a federal level, is firmly prohibitionist and would oppose any plans to fully legalize cannabis in Canada. Let us face facts, the border is a sieve and it drives the Americans nuts. If you are so inclined, a professional approach will see you across the line with minimal risk.
Pardon me for flogging a dead horse, but the problem that is faced in the States is the same one faced here — profiteering motivated by prohibition. The Government of America has to shake off the moral minority and face reality. They have lost the war on drugs. Calling us terrorists for smoking pot will not inspire a resurgence. Regulating the growing and distribution of cannabis will quickly unmask the profiteers and provide a focus for law enforcement. No matter what we do, the U.S. will always complain anyway. Keep in mind you are living down the street from a big, dumb bully. We are a sovereign country and we should act like it, not like lapdogs.
Keeping these points all in mind, and although we would like to see full legalization, that is unrealistic at this point, therefore, the mandate given to me by the membership of NORML for reconsidering Canada's cannabis prohibition law is to propose as follows:
Cannabis possession, cultivation and trafficking will remain under the jurisdiction of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, that is, the existing law will remain as it is, but section 56 of the CDSA should be interpreted to permit an exemption to be made available to an applicant which would allow the applicant to cultivate, possess, distribute or use cannabis on a recreational or medicinal basis. This program and supervision of it would be paid for by an outrageous tax upon the issuing of the licence.
A licence for personal cultivation and use would permit one to have no more than six budding plants at any point, and a maximum of one kilo of dried buds for personal use within the home.
Cafés, similar to bars and under the same authority, would be allowed to purchase cannabis from licensed growers and make it available on a per-gram basis for in-house use.
Growers would be licensed to produce medicinal or recreational cannabis which would be distributed through approved outlets.
Current laws, such as sections 249 or 253 of the Criminal Code are more than adequate to deal with the effects of public intoxication due to cannabis use.
A breach of license conditions would result in temporary forfeiture of privilege.
We have unanimous agreement that we, as licencees, would work towards full compliance by all members of the cannabis community with the regulations and with an eye toward self-policing.
We also ask that alcohol and tobacco be subject to the provisions of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and subject to the same conditions of manufacture, use and possession as cannabis.
My people want you to know that they are not criminals, and they are tired of being treated as such. There is a vast difference between use and abuse. There has to be a social contract that we can live with, or the situation will continue on as is.
We are willing to compromise and work with law enforcement, but there must be some real, serious movement on this issue. Speak firmly to the government and remind them that the state has no business in the bedrooms of our nation. Let us put this matter to rest once and for all. Thank you.
The Chairman: Just to make one correction. When Mr. Hampton says that a breach of Canadian cannabis prohibition laws can result in a life jail sentence, I think it must be explained that, if you are charged with possessing less than five grams or trafficking in less than three kilograms, the maximum penalty is five years.
Mr. Hampton: Yes. I could get the Criminal Code out and read it exactly, but you are correct. The life imprisonment for cannabis trafficking is for exceeding three kilograms, which is only seven pounds, not an excessive amount.
The Chairman: I just wanted to put that in perspective. A life sentence is not always applicable.
Mr. Hampton, since you are more of an expert in this area than we are, would you talk to us about the level of THC? I do not know if there is an ongoing debate on that subject here, but I know that in Quebec there is serious debate on the level of THC in certain substances.
Mr. Hampton: When cannabis first became popular in Canada, most of it was imported from Mexico, and the THC levels in that substance would range from between 4 per cent and 8 per cent. Through the course of the 1970s and through the 1980s we saw some specialty cannabis products imported from Hawaii, from Afghanistan and from around the world, and they had greater levels of THC in them. Those drugs have been available. Cannabis has been available with higher levels of THC through the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s in Canada.
When we saw the increase in people growing marijuana indoors in Canada, we saw an increase in the levels of active ingredients within cannabis.
The Chairman: Can you be a bit more specific on the levels and what other substances are added during in-house growing?
Mr. Hampton: Nothing is added. It is a matter of different strains. One kind of apple tree might only produce a very few apples, but another variety of apple tree may produce a whole lot of apples. It is a different breed, a different variety. A plant of one variety, if it only produces a quarter-ounce on the plant, will have basically the same THC level as the plant that produces a pound.
The Chairman: What would that level be?
Mr. Hampton: Right now I would say that for home-grown marijuana it is between 15 and 25 per cent. There is a top limit of about 27 per cent. You cannot go higher than that. That is a very potent substance, and if you smoke cannabis that only contains 10 per cent or 15 per cent THC on a regular basis and then pick up a joint that is 25 or 30 per cent, it certainly is different.
Cannabis smokers are well aware of these things. They are not neophytes. They know. They can tell when they pick up a bud, for the most part, if it is very potent or if it is not quite so potent.
We have the same classification with beer. The concentration of active ingredients in whiskey is higher than in beer, and people who are users of alcohol are well aware of that.
The Chairman: Does the consumer want a lower, medium, or higher level?
Mr. Hampton: Different consumers want each of those. There is a market for very low levels, under 10 per cent. The biggest market, two-thirds, is for between low and medium.
The Chairman: The numbers that you are giving us tend to demonstrate that Canada's cannabis production, at least in the THC content, is different from the that of the rest of the world. Canadian-grown cannabis is more potent than that cultivated in Europe, or even in the U.S. or Australia. The research that we have access to tells us that the potency, the THC content, in large marijuana seizures, in Europe, the U.S. and Australia, ranges between 7 per cent and 15 per cent.
Mr. Hampton: We have better pot, yes. We have won the cannabis cup repeatedly here.
The Chairman: Is that an exception, to reach 25, or is that the norm?
Mr. Hampton: Yes. You do not see it at 25.
The Chairman: What is normal for cannabis in Canada?
Mr. Hampton: If you just go down to the bar and buy a bag of pot, it will be about 15 per cent to 18 per cent.
The Chairman: Is that the average?
Mr. Hampton: Yes. Specialty marijuanas take a long time to grow. The period of fruition can be very short, six weeks, or it can be four or five months. If you want pot with a high level of THC, the period to fruition has to be extended.
The Chairman: Most of the concerns we have heard this morning from the Mayor and the Chief of Police, and we will probably hear the same from the local health authority, relates to the abuse of the substance so, as a user and knowing the attitudes of users, what can you tell us about the proportionality between straight users, occasional recreational users, and abusers of the substance? Can you give us an estimate?
Mr. Hampton: Those numbers are very controversial.
The Chairman: Do not mention numbers, if you do not have the numbers, tell us about attitudes.
Mr. Hampton: First of all, I will speak about the average pot smoker. He has a job and smokes twice or three times a week. He may smoke six or eight joints in the course of a week. He has an annual income of under $60,000, but over $30,000. He is just a normal guy, a regular person. The majority of cannabis users in Canada are just regular folks.
It is difficult to abuse cannabis. You can only get so high. Continued smoking does not increase intoxication once you reach a certain point. If you are talking about neophyte users, yes, it can have some very disconcerting effects. However, anything can be abused, although it is not a drug that lends itself to abuse. Once you are high, you do not get any higher.
The Chairman: As I understand it, abuse is not related to the amount of intake in a short period of time, it is related to repeated use. The researchers that we have questioned and the papers that we have read — correct me if I am wrong — set the bar at 30 grams per month; more than that, there is abuse or risk of abuse.
Mr. Hampton: I would say that is right on the money — 30 grams a month.
Mr. Chairman: A person using less than that is who you would call normal user; is that correct?
Mr. Hampton: Most users do not use 30 grams a month. Most users, I would say, use 10 grams a month. That would be an average amount. Some people smoke more. Some people smoke a lot more than 30 grams a month.
The Chairman: Is the concern of the health authority, the Mayor and the Chief of Police valid when they speak of concerns about abuse?
Mr. Hampton: There is a concern about abuse. Again, anything can be abused, just because it is cannabis does not single it out for particular abuse.
It is like a bridge across the river. If 10,000 cars drive across that bridge everyday and one person jumps off the bridge, you do not blame the bridge for being there, you blame the person for being unstable. You cannot blame an object because it has no sense of right or wrong. You must look at how a person uses it.
In Saskatchewan, on the Prairies, we have a lot of guns on farms. Most farmers consider the gun a tool. It only becomes a weapon if they use it in such a manner that it becomes a weapon. It is only a ``thing'' until it is used, and if it is used responsibly, there is no concept of abuse.
The number of people who would abuse or do abuse marijuana is a very small percentage. Whether its status is legal or illegal, it is being used, and it will still be used. Those are the issues that have to be addressed. Abuse will still exist.
The Chairman: Our research indicates that 10 per cent of users are chronic users. Would they be in the 30-gram-a- month area?
Mr. Hampton: That is close.
The Chairman: Therefore, 10 per cent are crossing that line?
Mr. Hampton: Yes.
The Chairman: Our research also indicates that 5 per cent to 10 per cent of all users will become addicted to cannabis. Do you have anything to say to that?
Mr. Hampton: It would be a psychological addiction. I do not think there is any evidence that shows that there is a physical addiction.
The Chairman: You are right. We do not have evidence to support that.
Mr. Hampton: Anything can be psychologically addictive. It certainly exists, and I would agree with that number. Probably about 5 per cent of users are addicted. It is an addiction that is not based in changes in physiology, it is probably more rooted in mental disease than it is in a physical addiction.
Yes, it exists, but there are a lot of people addicted to bingo, too. I suspect that probably more than 5 per cent of the people who frequent bingo halls have a need to return.
The Chairman: Can you confirm the health effects of cannabis use? I want to confirm some scientific findings now that we have someone who can testify to the reality.
The acute effects — acute being the short-term effects — include reduction of attention and concentration, reduction of motor abilities, including reflex and coordination, and reduction of short-term memory. Can you confirm that those are the acute effects; or what do you have to say about that?
Mr. Hampton: In neophyte users you will see some short-term inattention.
The Chairman: Do you mean by ``neophyte,'' a young user, someone who has never used before?
Mr. Hampton: My sister-in-law did not smoke a joint until she was 35, and she giggled like a 12-year-old girl. She is a neophyte user. She is not a youngster, but she had never smoked cannabis before. Her reaction was to suffer a short attention span.
An inexperienced user is what I would call a neophyte, people who have only used a very few times, that is, under six. They would suffer a short attention span, a loss of concentration and, to some degree, reduced motor skills.
The frequent user, a person who smokes once a week or twice a week, does not suffer from those. As I recall, the latest study done in England showed that the motor skills of people who smoked a joint actually went up a notch.
The Chairman: We are aware of the studies. I was asking you to share your personal experience.
Mr. Hampton: Neophyte users may experience some reduced motor skills, but not experienced users. If I smoke marijuana, I have no concern about operating heavy equipment or driving a tractor, or getting on stage and playing my guitar and doing a good job, or going into the studio and recording. I know that my motor skills are the same, one way or another.
I will not smoke a big quarter-ounce joint; I will smoke a joint that weighs half a gram, or maybe slightly more. It does exist, but it is not the whipping post that it is made out to be. The effects are not as severe as they are made out to be, although there are some.
The Chairman: Let us look at the chronic effects, the long-term effects.
Mr. Hampton: You are looking at it.
The Chairman: Those are more likely to be found in heavy users, that is, people who use more than 30 grams a month. The chronic effect include increased risk of lung cancer and other respiratory diseases; the possibility of cannabinoid psychosis among persons predisposed to psychosis; and the possibility of amotivational syndrome, meaning apathy, indifference and loss of interest and ambition. Do you have any comments on that?
Mr. Hampton: I will start with lung cancer, first of all. Any smoking is detrimental. Any time you inhale a substance into your lungs it will cause some harm.
The Chairman: Do you know people who smoke only cannabis and do not smoke tobacco?
Mr. Hampton: Yes, I do.
The Chairman: Do they have the same risk of lung cancer?
Mr. Hampton: No, they have a lot less risk. The risk of lung cancer from just smoking cannabis is fractional compared with the risk from tobacco use.
The Chairman: Do you have any comments about psychosis?
Mr. Hampton: That is a difficult one for me to comment on because I have little personal experience of it. My oldest son is an epileptic and a schizophrenic, and he has never smoked marijuana in his life. His doctors have suggested that it might help his epilepsy, which is very severe, but he does not want to participate.
Psychosis and mental disease occur in our society. They are horrible diseases, but they are not caused by marijuana. Marijuana might have a small effect on an pre-existing condition but, in itself, it does not cause psychosis. It is only a contributory factor.
As to the effects on general overall health, I have smoked for over 30 years. I am a singer and a musician. I can sing for three or four hours, and I sing hard. As I became a older my doctor put me through lung capacity tests, heart rate tests, and he has put me in the smallest percentile of risk. He said my physical health — lung capacity and heart rate — is as good as it gets. It could not be any better; and I have smoked for over 30 years.
I am not psychotic. I have never been to a psychiatrist in my life. I have had one speeding ticket. I have never had an impaired charge. I have never been arrested for anything to do with alcohol. I drink, but I drink in a responsible way. I smoke cannabis, but I smoke in a responsible way.
The Chairman: Have you ever tried other drugs?
Mr. Hampton: Oh, yes, I have.
The Chairman: For what reason?
Mr. Hampton: When I was young there was a big anti-drug push in the late 1960s. We heard all about this as kids. On the Prairies, when you come into a big city, if you are offered a joint, you smoke it all up and, well, you think that is pretty cool. You think, ``Well, they lied to us about this, so what else did they lie about?'' Then, if somebody comes along with something else, you try it. Out of curiosity, I worked my way through the whole genre. Not on a regular basis. I did not go out and buy one of everything and sit down and do it, but I worked my way through them over the course of 20 years. As a writer, one must experience. You cannot write about something you do not know about.
The only drug that I have never done is heroin. I have been given morphine in the hospital, so I figure I pretty much know what happens with that, too. I have done cocaine. I do not do it now, but I did it a few times over the course of a few years. I ingested LSD quite a few times through the 1970s, but I don't eat it any more. I have never been to drug rehabilitation or any kind of 12-step program.
Some things, at some points in your life, are acceptable; and at other points they are not. I do not tell people not to do it, but I make sure that they are well-aware of the dangers. I have never done Ecstasy, I don't intend to do it. My word on it is it causes liver damage. That is what I tell my people. People come to me for advice.
The Chairman: As an information centre?
Mr. Hampton: I always lean on the side of safety. I always say, ``If you don't know; don't do it.''