Thinking outside the hot box

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

April 5, 2007 Ed Cartoon

Given the inconsistencies in Canada’s drug laws, it’s difficult to discern when and where we should take an active stance for or against illegal drug use.

Existing laws cloud our perceptions of drugs and how some may be different from others. Ritalin and alcohol, while legal, have potentially deadly side-effects on the heart and liver, respectively. On the other hand, marijuana has fewer detrimental effects, especially if it isn’t smoked. The seemingly baseless standards on which these laws are created complicate the ethics of punishment. While some cases are clear-cut " certainly those supplying cocaine should be policed " others aren’t so easy.

Many dealers at Western see themselves as businesspeople; dealers may not even regularly use the drugs they sell. Also, considering the recent U.K. report claiming marijuana and ecstasy are safer than alcohol, some aren’t harming people any more than any Richmond Row bar is.

The usual arguments for legalizing marijuana " the missed tax revenue, the saved expense of policing the drug " still hold weight. Yet, even for more seriously harmful or addictive drugs, trying to force people to stop using or dealing isn’t always effective. Illegality creates underground drug trades, where purity cannot be verified and the dangers associated with drug use increase.

Still, these considerations aren’t enough to conclude legalizing more drugs is the best solution. Legalization would make drugs ubiquitous. The fact that many people are surprised to learn alcohol is considered more dangerous than marijuana is testament to the fact that, in general, people don’t think carefully enough about legal drug use.

Drugs’ legality poses particularly significant problems when we examine “self-medication.” If a student feels their prescribed medication doesn’t aid their mental problems, but drugs like marijuana or Ritalin do, should we fault them? Pot and non-prescribed Ritalin are considered “wrong” because they’re illegal, not necessarily because of their side-effects. A heavy dose of booze or any over-the-counter medication can harm someone as easily, if not easier, than cannabis.

Choosing drugs based on legality doesn’t guarantee safe choices. Legalized drugs don’t always affect our lives positively, just as illegal ones don’t always affect us negatively.

The only surefire way to help the population make good decisions about drugs is education. Firm knowledge on a drug’s short and long-term side-effects and addictiveness helps people make informed decisions.

All we can do is ensure there is ample information for people considering drug use and open, judgement-free avenues for people seeking help for drug-related problems.

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