I’ve been seeing a Canadian Club whisky ad on TV a lot lately. And it bothers me.
Not because of Canadian Club or the ad itself.
The ad features a fictional “chairman” of Canadian Club extolling the virtues of Canadian companies violating many laws of both Canada and the United States to supply eager American consumers with a product made in Canada and smuggled across the border.
Canadian Club has been around (in one form or another) for 145 years and is now owned by the entirely legal Jim Beam liquor empire. But during Prohibition it used to supply psychopathic, syphilitic American gangster Al Capone with a huge chunk of the high-end smuggled, illegal alcohol that allowed organized crime to grow and flourish and corrupt American society even more than normal business and political practices did at the time.
As the Canadian Club “chairman” says on the TV ad:
“When America had this terrible idea called Prohibition, Canada helped the U.S. out. Canadian Club was the most bootlegged whisky in the States, and if there’s one thing that tastes better than whisky … it’s smuggled whisky.”
The ad has a nice, comfortable, nostalgic feel. But it bothers me.
It bothers me because it implies that Prohibition is some ancient. barbaric, ignorant phase that society endured and survived long ago like the bubonic plague or the Spanish inquisition. It assumes that we have become an evolved, elevated, enlightened society that now laughs at the insanity of banning a widely used “soft” intoxicant, that no longer punishes and degrades and ruins human beings for choosing to consume a substance that has given comfort and pleasure — and, yes, pain and problems too, just like tobacco and sugar and salt — to human beings since long before the beginning of recorded history.
That assumption, that implication is wrong — and it bothers me. (I should note that where you see the word “bothers” I had originally written “sickens.” I decided that “sickens” was a little too strong; but “bothers” is definitely too weak. So I’m still dissatisfied. Or maybe I’m both bothered and sickened.)
It bothers/sickens me because thousands of ordinary Canadians are still being thrown into prison every year — now, in late 2013 — for violating the kind of ancient, barbaric, ignorant law that should have died eight decades ago — about the same time it came into effect.
And almost all of those incarcerated lost souls are just dumb, ordinary schmucks who did the wrong thing in the wrong place at the wrong time (I’m speaking in strategic, not moral, terms here) and didn’t have the smarts or the luck or the connections or the financial wherewithall to step out of this particular cowpie unscathed.
Of course I’m talking about Canada’s pot laws.
I’ve written about this before — quite recently, in fact — but my dander is up again after reading a piece today in Britain’s Observer newspaper, the world’s oldest Sunday newspaper and publishing sister of the daily Guardian.
The piece is written by Mike Barton, one of the top cops in Britain, and it calls for the legalization of pretty much all currently illegal drugs, not just marijuana.
Barton (whose quaint official title is Chief Constable of Durham Constabulary and who is also head of the national intelligence group of Britain’s Association of Chief Police Officers) also wants the government to control and regulate the use of those substances — not just “soft” marijuana, but hard, addictive drugs like cocaine and heroin.
Because, as Barton writes, “If the war on drugs means trying to reduce the illicit supply of drugs, then it has comprehensively failed.”
This is coming from a guy who is widely credited as one of the top crimebusters in Britain, a man whose primary focus is dealing with the real criminals who prey on society, the criminals who get a windfall of billions of dollars (or pounds or euros or whatever currency you choose) every year because idiot governments conveniently give them the same wealth and power that American Prohibition gave Al Capone 85 years ago.
As Barton says:
“Not all crime gangs raise income through selling drugs, but in my experience most of them do. So offering an alternative route of supply to users cuts off the gang’s income stream…
“Drugs should be controlled. They should not, of course, be freely available. I think addiction to anything — be it drugs, alcohol, gambling or anything else — is not a good thing, but outright prohibition just hands revenue streams to villains…
“In my force area we have 43 organized crime groups on our radar. Most of them have their primary source of income in illicit drug supply; all of them are involved in some way.
“These criminals are often local heroes and role models for young people who covet their wealth. Decriminalizing their commodity will immediately cut off their income stream and destroy their power. Making drugs legal would tackle the supply chain much more effectively and much more economically than we can currently manage.”
And Barton isn’t even talking about grass or pot or marijuana or whatever you want to call it. He’s talking about hard drugs.
It’s not just some British copper who’s recommending legalization.
I’m certainly no fan of Canada’s abominable Senate, but sometimes they get things right. Way back in 2002 a Senate special committee on illegal drugs recommended legalizing the government sale of marijuana for exactly those same reasons — to remove a major profit pipeline from gangs and organized crime and to end this needless, senseless ruination of the lives of casual users.
Hell, as far back as 1970, the government-appointed LeDain Commission recommended the decriminalization of marijuana.
This cartoon is from the magazine New Republic — back in 1972.
The current prosecution/persecution of minor recreational drug users accomplishes absolutely nothing in terms of real crime prevention at a cost to taxpayers of billions of dollars.
As I mentioned in a previous piece:
“Since Stephen Harper’s Conservatives took office, about 400,000 people have been arrested in Canada on various marijuana-related charges, according to police statistics cited by Maclean’s magazine.
“In a seven-year period, that’s about 40% of the estimated one million people in total who have ever been arrested on such charges in Canada since cannabis was criminalized here in 1923. Since almost no marijuana arrests were made in Canada before 1960, those other 600,000 marijuana arrests were spread over the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and first half of the ’00s — half a century compared to little more than half a decade for the Harper Conservatives.”
At the same time, the cost of running Canada’s prison system has risen more than 60% since Stephen Harper took office, according to Senator Colin Kenny.
No wonder when you consider the average cost of keeping someone in a Canadian prison for a year is $113,000 (again, Kenny is the source of that figure) and the Harper government has imposed minimum sentences of six months (to 14 years) on first-time drug offenders even though courts have ruled repeatedly, like the Ontario Superior Court did last year, that such punishment is “fundamentally unfair, outrageous, abhorrent and intolerable.”
All because some dumb kid was dumb enough to smoke a joint in public view and some dumb cop was dumb enough to think he or she was somehow protecting society by getting heavy on a dumb kid. What a hero.
I can think of so many better ways to spend $113,000 of taxpayers’ money than putting a dumb kid is jail for smoking a joint.
When you multiply $113,000 by 400,000 it becomes more than sad — it becomes … what did the Ontario Superior Court say? … “outrageous, abhorrent and intolerable.”
And in the end the only ones who really profit are the gangs and criminal networks that control the illegal drug trade from coast to coast in this country. Gangs that grow richer and stronger every day that the government of this country wastes billions of dollars putting pot-smoking kids in jail instead of actually fighting crime.
Even Texas, for God’s sake, has abandoned the concept of minimum sentences for drug possession. Why? Because it’s dumb, expensive, destructive and useless.
If Texas can see that, why can’t we?
I think the “chairman” of Canadian Club needs to sit Stephen Harper down and give him a good talking to.