Marijuana symposium fires up discussion

By in News

In light of what could be a political sea of change surrounding the legalization and regulation of marijuana, the University of Saskatchewan College of Arts and Science hosted a symposium on Feb. 25 and 26 to explore the implications of such a change and involved speakers from a wide range of disciplines.

U of S students and faculty converse about the decriminalization of cannabis in Canada.

Governor-General David Johnston’s latest speech from the throne echoes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s support of full marijuana legalization. The Feb. 24 federal court ruling in Allard et al versus Her Majesty the Queen is a move that will authorize patients to grow their own medical marijuana. Many are now working to anticipate what this ruling will mean in terms of real-world implementation and impacts, including Dan Malleck.

Malleck is a history professor from Brock University and the author of When Good Drugs Go Bad: Opium, Medicine, and the Origins of Canada’s Drug Laws, regarding early Canadian drug laws and prohibition/post-prohibition Ontario. He spoke at the symposium about how prohibition relates to the current discussion on cannabis.

“After prohibition and liquor control, it helped to roll it out in a way that said, ‘Okay you can drink, it’s great, drink. Enjoy yourself. But don’t go crazy, because when you do that, you cease to be embodying the rules of the state,’” Malleck said.

By many accounts over the course of the symposium, the prospect of legalizing marijuana could potentially benefit students and, by extension, the general public. Some scholars argue that criminalizing marijuana and other street drugs serves only to push those drugs underground. Rather than having legitimate businesses sell drugs, gangs control much of the sale and distribution. Instead of common legal protections for one’s business, gang members are apt to use force to control their turf.

Sarah Hoffman, U of S associate professor and undergraduate chair in the department of philosophy, spoke as a part of the recreational use panel regarding the need for harm-reduction, as well as what she calls freedom of consciousness.

“I’m kind of a living, breathing stereotype: I’m a philosophy professor who gets stoned,” Hoffman said, before clarifying that she has not broken any drug laws in several years and that she wishes she had done less of that in her youth.

Hoffman also asserted that a number of the admittedly problematic issues surrounding drugs like cannabis could be mitigated with better information, legalization and regulation.

“Criminalizing that kind of behaviour and the kinds of falsehoods and propaganda that are required to try to trick people into thinking that there are risks that there aren’t, and putting those substances into the hands of criminals: people who are willing to make money doing criminal things, they tend to be willing to do other types of criminal things like violent things and so forth. That just increases harms,” Hoffman said.

Sean Trembath, a reporter for the Star Phoenix who sat on the first panel, spoke about the role journalists can expect to play as this story unfolds.

“With the Trudeau government’s commitment to legalizing, this is something that we’re going to be seeing more and more of. And as that story unfolds, we journalists are going to be a big part of telling that story. I mean, I guess really the story of legal marijuana in Canada is yet to be told. As a topic, it really excites me,” he said.

Pat Warnecke is a Regina entrepreneur with a licensed producer application that has been pending with the federal government for a few years. As of press time, he announced that his new medical marijuana dispensary is set to open in about two weeks.

“With the Allard case and decision just happening, we’re thinking it’s promoting a dispensary system versus the [licensed producer] system, so we came to get some feedback and talk to people about different aspects and see where everybody kind of stands on it,” Warnecke said.

Warnecke says United States–owned companies with greater capital were given preferential treatment under the Harper government. Like so many with a vested interest, he hopes to see improvement in Canada’s shifting legal and political landscape.

Patty Hails

Photo: Jeremy Britz / Graphics Editor