The wonderful thing about having Canada as a neighbor was always knowing that its Molson-drinking, "eh"-affixing, health-care-socializing denizens were a mostly harmless bunch. Not any longer if you're U.S. drug czar John Walters.
Wally is exercised about BC Bud, a high-grade, high-potency, high-price marijuana that will get smokers giggling quicker than the more mundane stuff grown in Mexico or that hollow out behind Uncle Billy's shed in Eastern Kentucky. Walters apparently has it figured that if the old-fashioned stuff could make the characters in "Reefer Madness" act so insanely, this nuevo-reefer must be, well, as bad as crack.
"Canada is exporting to us the crack of marijuana and it is a dangerous problem," Walters told reporters in April, emphasizing the pot's potency.
Walter's use of crack bugaboo makes sense. When most people think of marijuana, they don't think of the end of the world. An annoying problem, perhaps. Something they don't want their kids messing with, typically. But nothing so horrifying as crack, which if you didn't sleep through the latter half of the 1980s, you might recall was basically considered a bigger threat to America than Soviet nukes. Newsweek Editor In Chief Richard M. Smith even likened it to the Black Death in a signed editorial.
It turned out the crack scare was mostly just that -- a scare. The drug hardly makes headlines any longer, except when Jeb Bush's daughter is caught in rehab with a rock or two. But people sure remember that it was nasty stuff; ergo, Wally's use of the spurious connection to BC Bud.
So how big of a problem is this stuff, really?
"It is one of the reasons why we believe ... we have seen a doubling of emergency room cases involving marijuana in the last several years from 60,000 to 120,000," Walters said.
This may not be putting my best forensics foot forward, but the statistic Walters is referring to is problematic. Generated by the Drug Abuse Warning Network, the DAWN stat only tracks an examiner's mention of a patient's use of an illegal drug or misuse of a legal one; it can't fix causation. Which is why Walters has to say "involving" rather than "caused by" pot. Further, it's not like examiners are asking patients if they're toking on BC Bud, Thai Gold, Super Skunk, Hawaiian Indica, or whatever other strain of marijuana is available. They could be smoking ditchweed for all anyone knows.
Next, for such a monstrous upsurge, you'd expect to find vast quantities of BC Bud coming across the border and being huffed by the bale.
Not so if interdiction numbers mean anything. "Ottawa has said that Washington's own data shows that of all the illegal pot seized by U.S. agents only 1.5 percent came from Canada," reports Reuters.
While Canadian-grown weed can be of higher quality and certainly of higher price than the stuff stamped "hecho en Mexico," what our Southern neighbors lack in quality, they make up for in quantity. Using U.S. Customs data, Shannon McCaffrey of the St. Paul Pioneer Press points out that in fiscal year 2002 authorities snagged 1.2 million pounds of pot coming from Mexico.
By comparison, authorities seized less than 20,000 pounds of Canadian cannabis.
So which is a bigger problem: high-grade pot as cost-prohibitive as powder cocaine from Canada or the doobie deluge from Mexico?
How about neither?
Instead, take this more cynical (but more realistic) picture for whatever it's worth: Drug laws only have public support so long as drugs are deemed extremely dangerous. Every time an effort to crack down on drugs is made with new laws, politicians hype the threat caused by narcotics and other psychoactive substances in an attempt to whip the public into a frightened tangle of angst-ridden nerves.
More fear means more support for whatever is supposed to alleviate the fear, and more support means bigger budgets. Every politician knows how to exploit this peculiar form of calculus.
This doesn't mean that drug abuse does not cause problems. It only means that pols have every incentive to inflate problems and stoke dread to get what they want, namely tougher prohibition measures.
But as I argue in my forthcoming book, "Bad Trip," these measures amplify every problem drugs are supposedly the cause of: crime, corruption, destructive abuse, the whole nine kilos. It's a bureaucratic make-work program -- a self-justifying and self-perpetuating system that both deceives and bilks taxpayers to keep going.
"We need to have political leadership in Canada that recognizes the problem," Walters said.
Don't mistake this as an endorsement for Kerry, but given the wild ideas about BC Bud coming out of Washington, I'd settle for political leadership here that recognized the real problem: Itself.
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