Monday, January 11, 2010

Prohibition All Over Again?

Gangs of organized crime run around the streets selling an illicit drug that fly off their hands faster then they can produce it. Individuals look to cash in by producing the substance themselves, adding chemicals to enhance the drug or multiply the quantities. The government is trying to reassure the public, spending millions to crack down on this drug that they are sure is the root of many of society's problems.

Crack, Cocaine, heroine, marijuana; which drug is it? Well, the substance in question is actually alcohol.

Yep that Molson Canadian you enjoy so much after a long day at work or that glass of red wine that you have every night for the antioxidants was illegal during the hey day of prohibition about 90 years ago.

So the question begs to be asked, if at one time alcohol was seen as a societal evil, is there another illicit drug out there that isn't so bad.

How about marijuana?

The debate has raged for decades about the pros and cons of decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana in Canada, but the way I look at it we already have a test scenario that played out all those decades ago in the form of prohibition.

Now I have never tried marijuana in my life, and probably never will since it doesn't really interest me much, but for me it makes sense socially and economically to decriminalize, or even legalize marijuana based on the result of prohibition.

Prohibition was a wreck from the beginning. Taking away alcohol was supposed to limit crime and abuse in the neighbourhoods and homes in Canada. Instead it helped fund organized crime and drained millions from the government coffers. All the while thirsty Canadians guzzled down the same amount of booze as before. And we aren't talking about nice regulated alcoholic beverages, we're looking at the moonshine variety that could strip paint off a fence.

In the end the government decided to abolish prohibition and regulate the sale of alcohol in stores such as the LCBO.

Now this scenario seems an awful lot like the one that surrounds marijuana today.

Supposed you want some weed. It must be hard to get right? Because its illegal. Well actually you know somebody, let's call him Joe, down the way who can get you some. So you score some marijuana from Joe even though you don't know what exactly is in it or how Joe came to get it. By next week Joe's been arressted or shot at by the gang he owes money to, and you're still recovering from an overdose of meth because Joe's dealer laced your marijuana with it. Boy, do you ever wish there was a safer way to get this stuff.

Marijuana is a recreational drug used by thousands around the nation. It is true that marijuana can have health affects, mostly when overused, but so can alcohol or tobacco and nicotine. But marijuana can be even worse when the buyers don't really know where they are getting it from or what's in it, like was the case with alcohol during prohibition.

So allow me to dream for a second. Imagine a future when, instead of organized crime, the governement supplies marijuana to those over, lets say 19 or 21, from government grow-ops and government stores. The marijuana is legal and reliable, the kids aren't getting the drug from the seedy characters in the back alley, thousands of jobs are being made and the government is laughing all the way to the bank with the billions they make from taxing the marijuana.

Now add in the fact that the prison and policing systems are spending less money and time accomadating and looking for people who have a bit of marijuana on them and you have more money which can be used to encourage responsible smoking and on health care and lowering tuition and the like.

And if you think that the money won't be enough consider that marijuana is British Columbia's 2nd largest industry, raking in $10 billion annually, ahead of the mighty foresting industry in the province. Imagine what the whole country could get eh?

I am not devaluing the potential hazards associated with this plan, like the abuse of marijuana or underage smoking, but these problems are already prevalent in Canada, both with marijuana and alcohol. I think trying to control it rather then fighting it would be a lot more effective in being successful on these fronts.

So grab a beer, the one that prohibition almost took away from you, settle down and consider a world where the weed has been freed.

For some more info and opinions on this issue follow this link to a Maclean's article from 2001

Saturday, January 9, 2010

If You Can't Handle the Heat...Prorogue?

For Stephen Harper the times were pretty good a little while ago.

The economy seemed to be picking up, the Olympics were coming to Canada and Dalton McGuinty was ticking the liberal faithful off in Ontario with his talk of the dreaded Harmonized Sales Tax.

Ahh yes, everything looked good in Tory Town.

But boy, did Harper ever choke on that big fat chance for national support!

The bomb-shell allegations of a cover-up of the torturing of Afghan detainees by Richard Colvin really put the Conservatives in a hole. The way they tried to solve the problem by disgracefully trying to discredit Colvin dug them a very very deep hole, at least in my books. Canadians don't just shrug off human rights violations, even ones that aren't fully proven.

Harper, though, had a chance to regain some points with the Canadian voters, especially the green ones, at the climate summit in Copenhagen. He was mostly forgiven for accepting to go only when Obama was going, like the kid who quietly follows the cool kid around the playground to get some attention. As long as he was there he could establish Canada as a serious player in trying to make our world cleaner right? Wrong! He didn't factor much in the talks and instead of a global deal getting done, negotiations fell through.

And now the final straw that broke the voters' backs: proroguing parliment. This decisions, it seems, may turn the hole Harper has dug for himself, into his grave.

Now proroguing, shutting down parliament, is a Prime Minister's right and it is standard for it to be done every year or every other year. That much is true, and it has been a tradition throughout our political history. It's also part of our democracy.

However, proroguing in the past was usually done as a procedural type thing. More as something expected to give everyone a clean slate after a bit of time. You see when proroguing shuts down a session it wipes clean all bills going through parliament. This means every bill has to start from square one when a new session begins, even if it was about to be passed right before.

Harper though has found a new way to use proroguing though. He is using it as a tool to get out of tough questions from the opposition. He says it's to plan their next budget and decide their next move on the economy, but I look at it like this: The government is a business and, as one of my relatives put it, any good and successful business should be able to plan and operate at the same time. I mean imagine if Apple said "Sorry everyone, we arent producing any more Mac books or ipods or recieving any complaints right now cause we're working on our budget." I think we would have some people switching over to MP3s and that nerdy PC guy on the Apple commercial would get a little more sympathy.

Harper is pretty much doing this to escape the fall out from the Afghan detainee scandal. He says that Canadians don't really care about Afghanistan right now cause of the economy, but I find that a little insulting for one. I'm pretty sure Canadians, as my dad puts it, can chew their gum and walk at the same time. That is to say we can care about the economy AND Afghanistan at the same time. Although maybe Harper can't.

Harper really does have it pretty good though. I mean who else can say that they can stop their job just so they won't be fired for a while. That's power right there.

But it's power that's been corrupted and misused, and Canadians are not standing for it, as they shouldn't. Many are writing letters and emails to their MPs and to Harper himself and all I can say is that if Harper can't walk and chew simoultaneously I sure hope he can prorogue and listen at the same time. Although that may be asking too much eh?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Our Chemical Friends

Pesticides are awesome.

WAIT! Don't leave all you noble environmentalists, I'm going somewhere with this, and believe it or not, pesticides are good for the earth.

Pesticides have recieved a bad rap over the years and, hey, why not. Afterall they are chemicals and chemicals are harmful. I mean I would never, no matter how much money you gave me, chug a bottle of Windex or anything.

But then again who in their right mind would drink Windex. So people keep on spraying it on windows to provide that streak-free shine and everyone is happy.

I believe that pesticides are the same as Windex, if you use them correctly no one should be hurt, and they provide a lot of benefits.

Without pesticides our world would probably be a lot different and I'm betting a lot worse off. That apple you ate today or thoes bananas and strawberries you used in your smoothie probably werent mushy or bruised or worm infested rigtht? That's the work of pesticides. That also goes for the food that goes to food banks and to people in other nations that can't afford fruit and vegetables regularly. Pesticides help yield more of those crops so more people can eat.

Now I'll be the first to admit that pesticides can be very dangerous and cause tremendous health problems. BUT thats only if they are used irresponsibly and incorrectly. Eating too much salt can also have adverse effects on the body, as Supersize proved, and so can a lot of other things, chemical or not. So pesticides aren't the big bad bullies on the playground, they are just like any other kid.

Well how about those organic alternatives, they seem pretty good and healthy? And sometimes its true, some farmers actually grow their stuff without anything except good ol' fertilizer, water and sun, but many others use so-called "organic substances" to get that nice crisp look on that lettuce. The problem with these substances is that they aren't tested anywhere near as rigourously as the chemical ones and may even be a lot more dangerous.

Let me give you a snapshot of how carefully chemical pesticides are tested. After 10 years and around $200 million of testing its decided whether the product is safe for the market. The level of chemical in the pesticide is 1000 times less then the highest safe amount for humans. That is like figuring that the fastest speed limit that is safe on the highway is 100 km/hr and then reducing the speed limit to 0.1 km/hr. that would make it a heck of a lot harder to get in an accident eh?

And pesticides can also reduce global warming. Yep that's right help REDUCE global warming. Strong healthy grass and foliage (made so by pesticides) can suck in a lot more of that nasty carbon floating around out there then unhealthy foliage, or none at all.

And if not for pesticides then where would industries like golf be. In the drink, thats where. Billions of dollars of GDP would be lost, jobs gone in a blink of an eye and we would have no Tiger Woods to gossip about. What would we ever do then to occupy our time?

So pesticides aren't all that bad. I think the negative stereotypes come from misinformation. From the very begginging we are taught that chemicals are bad and therefore pesticides are too. A lot of us don't even bother to question that. But we're all guilty of accepting things as they are sometimes. But maybe we should question things more. That doesn't mean that there's a conspiracy or scandal behind everything, it simply means know the facts, do some research.

So get to know pesticides a little more. And who knows, you might even end up liking them.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Behind the Name

Everybody has a view. It can be conservative, liberal, socialist or environmental. It can be biased or balanced. It can be about something big or small. It can be profession or passionate or both. It can be researched or spontaneous. It can be a view from the air or from the ground (if your short, which i am). Animals have views too, from the aforementioned ground and air to inside a cage or in the wilds of the forest or mountains. Birds and bees even have very developed views on sex apparently, but I never knew how that came to be. No matter where you're from, what nationality, race, religious system, sexual orientation or gender your part of everyone has views on something.

The point is, again, everyone has views. That includes, short students from Toronto such as myself. I don't consider my views or opinions to be anywhere near expert, but as a journalism student the belief that issues should be studied from all angles and researched intensely, which I have had faith in since I was a wee lad, has been drilled into me even more in the past year and a half. A lot of the time my opinions on issues are just developing. I have travelled tons and met all kinds of interesting and important people, but really, I have next to no experience in the world.

In one episode of the animated kids show Recess, the character T.J lives as a kindergarten-er for a day and finger paints. He describes how with fingerpainting you can feel the paint and the colours. And its true. there's nothing between you and the paint. Its all connected. It's kind of freeing. However finger painting is often seen as a the least civilized form of painting. I mean most times it's done by kids hopped up on grape juice who can barely string together a few nouns in a row, although I occasionaly like a good finger painting session. Finger painting may be a little crude, at least in grown-ups' eyes, but it is also so natural, so fundamental. I bet Picasso and Van Gogh finger painted. It may not have been Starry Night, but it was the start.

My thoughts are sorta like finger painting. They are not the most developed, but they are passionate, something I like, something that makes sense to me (and sometimes only to me) and the groundworks for something more, something I may be able to build on to help myself and others.

So as I set out on this blogging journey (my first) I hope to smear some paint on the canvas and hope that the picture that is hanged on the kitchen fridge turns into the Mona Lisa somewhere along the way.