Sunday, November 7, 2010

Not a fan...

Occasionally I receive emails from strangers regarding my advocacy for drug policy reform. These are almost always positive. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of negative emails I have received in the past two years. Anyway, today one of those emails arrived my inbox from someone in BC. I've removed his name to protect his privacy, but otherwise here is the full text of his email:

Mr. Bratzer:

I recently heard you on CKNW radio in the Van. area peddling your wares around de-criminalization. I must say that I have never heard such a lame collection of talking points, cliches and drivel. You come from the starting place that drug enforcement has failed. You obviously don't not live in British Columbia: we are living in the midst of de facto de-criminalization of marijuana, both possession and production, thanks entirely to an activist judiciary who refuse to punish criminals for grow ops. In BC, only 3 or 4 people out of 100 get any punishment for having a grow op. The punishment? On average a $ 1,500.00 fine, even though they have stolen on average $ 1,800.00 worth of hydro to run the grow op and receive a mere 15 days in jail, on average. Now I don't want to confuse you with facts but here in BC we are already living in a world of de-criminaliztion. Is it utopia? Hardly. Because marijuana is the gateway drug for all starting out street gangs and is the currency of both street gangs and organized crime, we have experienced unprecedented gang violence: 50 unsolved targeted hits with 5 innocent Canadians murdered in the last 3 years minding their own business. Because of plea bargains, the average number of plants a person has in their "possession" when convicted of just possession in BC is 94 plants. Did you know that?? Are you surprised? Its far worse then you even know. Are you tracking yet? And your worn out cliches are pale against the reality of what needs to be done to re-assert control over public safety. What will all those streets gangs do and all those Angels do when the govt. gets in the business? Do you think they will all go and work in MacDonalds? Or maybe into law enforcement? They could ride along side people like you, for example.....Right! And is the govt. also going to take over all those illegal hand guns, cocaine and heroine coming north in exchange for our BC Bud?
Sadly, your position around de-criminalization raises more questions than answers.

Based on what we see here in BC, you are advocating anarchy, but I am certain that that reality totally escapes you. But I digress. Ignorance is bliss.......
Assuming his statistics are correct, what would you tell this fellow?


  1. Tell him that in the US we're so tough on crime that we put seed sellers on our most wanted lists and extradite them from neighboring countries. We're so tough that we have mandatory minimums for over 99 plants. We're so tough that you have to take pee tests to get a job.

    Are our use rates any lower than in Canada / BC?

  2. Tell him he isn't seeing the big picture. He's been so stuck in BC his whole life that he can't see the forest for the trees. Even if there were "de facto" decriminalization in BC, a point which I find contentious, prohibition is alive and well south of the border. And as long as there is prohibition in the US, there will be gangs in BC.

    Tell him to think about the Canadian rum runners and whisky smugglers during alcohol prohibition. The situation was quite similar: the violence was fueled by what was going on in the US, not in Canada, even though the whisky and rum was coming from Canada.

  3. > What will all those streets gangs do
    > and all those Angels do when the
    > govt. gets in the business?

    Ask him if is is really in favor of a policy to cede the unregulated drug market to criminal enterprises out of fear that they might become criminal enterprises. Ask him if he recognizes himself being cowed.

  4. For him to say that marijuana is a gateway to anything makes the rest of his rant useless.
    You can't reason with these types.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Great comments everyone. I'm always torn between engaging with critics of the drug policy reform movement, and moving past them and spending my time and resources on folks who are undecided and therefore open to the evidence.

    One thing is for sure - we certainly do not have de-facto decriminalization of cannabis here in BC.

  7. That guy sounds a bit like he is coming from the "If we only would ratchet the War on Drugs up a bit, we would be able to see results"-side of the prohibitionist argument sphere. Maybe point out to him that going medieval on those BC gangs will probably do as much good as it has done in Mexico. Zilch.
    And he might also consider that non consensual crimes are way easier to trace and prosecute than consensual ones, since there is usually a victim who will, if able, report information to the authorities. Professional criminals will in all probability stay criminals after the end of drug prohibition, but that is in no way an argument to continue prohibition. Prohibition only makes it easier for them to turn an easy profit and suck more people into their world with the lure of money.
    Hope that wasn't all too incoherent. (Second language and all.)

  8. I'd say that he's confused the problem. It's not the drugs per se, but it's about the unintended consequences of prohibition. The claim that cannabis is a gateway drug neglects to mention that most cannabis users also chewed gum before they used pot, ergo, chewing gum is a gateway "drug" to cannabis, at least by the logic of his or her argument.

  9. Well, if I read it right s/he is not talking about Cannabis as a gateway drug in the usual sense. More like a financial gateway to start up a new gang. Legalizing Cannabis would of course clear that problem right up. But, hey, logic isn't for everyone, right?

    "Because marijuana is the __gateway drug for all starting out street gangs__ and is the currency of both street gangs and organized crime, we have experienced unprecedented gang violence..."

  10. Dear Letter Writer,
    Thank you for taking the time to let me know your opinions. Please allow me to offer a few corrections and ask you some questions.

    First, I advocate legalization, so we can set standards via regulation. Merely decriminalizing allows the black market to continue, and based on your own observations, the black market is the gateway to organized crime.

    I would also suggest that you give careful thought to the notion that legalizing will create the anarchy you fear. In fact, legalizing will allow us to inspect businesses, set hours of operation, set age restrictions, and other important issues. Prohibition, which you advocate, has given birth to an ever-expanding, enormously profitable black market which is what spawns the anarchy you see and detest so much.

    Can you please elaborate more on how legalization and regulation will create anarchy? I am serious, like you, I only wish for the public to be safe and I would be glad to point you to sources which show — no clichés or talking points, and with lots of not-boring facts — that bringing drugs out of the dark and into the light (Netherlands, Portugal, etc…) has gone a long way towards increasing public safety, lowering drug use across all ages, reduced overdose deaths and the spread of disease, allowed addicts to reenter the work force, and many other things which have greatly reduced harm; we call this harm reduction.

    Personally I fail to see how putting someone in prison for over two weeks for growing plants is effective. Two weeks is short in the span of geologic time, but to be forced into the confinement of small cell for 15 days is no small matter for anyone not in a coma; except if you're advocating they have 15-day course in how to perpetrate other crimes, and sharpen their skills in avoiding detection for next time.

    You say that marijuana is the currency of street gangs and organized crime. What has given it that value? What can be done to reduce that currency such that it is of so little value it can no longer be traded for guns and munitions?

    You asked, "What will all those streets gangs do and all those Angels do when the govt. gets in the business? Do you think they will all go and work in MacDonalds? Or maybe into law enforcement?"

    To start with your last question, prohibition has introduced serious amounts of corruption in government and corporations. In fact there is so much corruption, and temptation for corruption, in government we spend an incredible amount of resources just policing ourselves! Resources and time which would be far better used tracking down those engaged in property crime, rapists, murders, etc…

    With regards to your question about what will the gangs do once we end prohibition, you are implying we need to keep drugs illegal so the gangs have continued employment. Does this mean you are also against organizations like Drug Free America and Drug Free World? Because their goal, too, is to take drugs out of the hands of gangs. Thus leading to the exact same scenario: unemployed gang members.

    Please tell me where I'm wrong: by taking the profitability out of drugs we can end the cycle of teens being drawn into the lucrative world of drug dealing.

    Thank you for your time and I look forward to your answers.


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