Watch David Malmo-Levine talk about weed in our documentary about B.C. Bud.
Last January, the bedraggled remains of the once-mighty Liberal party assembled for their biennial convention and came up with a big idea: decriminalizing, but not legalizing, marijuana.
The proposal came out as if it were some shocking revelation: who knew that arresting and charging people for carrying a dime bag was a waste of tax dollars and a direct threat to Canada’s youth? Everybody, actually, including the Liberal party.
It was in the time of Barbara Streisand banging our beloved Pierre-Elliot Trudeau that the Liberals first started humming and hawing over the cannabis conundrum—way back in 1978. Seems fitting then, that what may be the final push for legalization is shaping up to land on the silky soft head of his flowing haired son.
For the Liberals, it’s a no-brainer, really. The Conservative government, and even the NDP, won’t touch legalization. The hope has to be that their stance will appeal to the millions of Canadians who light up every year. If so, legalization could prove to be the resuscitative jolt that brings the corpse of Canada’s ‘natural governing party’ back to life.
That’s a pretty fair gamble too, considering that 65 percent of Canadians stand in favor of legalization or decriminalization. And with our drug war waging neighbours to the south choosing to legalize pot in Colorado and Washington last November, the prospect suddenly doesn’t seem so terrifying.
The question is whether they’re for real or not. It was at their 2000 convention that the Liberals adopted the policy of decriminalization, supposedly allowing Canadians to possess small amounts of marijuana without violating the Criminal Code. Rather than eliminating useless arrests, however, decriminalization plunged marijuana into a legal no man’s land—and marijuana still remains an illicit substance in Canada.
In the 38-page draft of their legalization policy, the Liberal party specifically states that decriminalization has largely been a failure. With the April 14leadership election looming, presumed front-runner Justin Trudeau has been wishy-washy on the notion of legalization, instead expressing his love for the failed program.
With the Liberals talking out of both sides of their mouth, I called someone who knows more than me. David Malmo-Levine has been a marijuana activist since 1994. Since then, he has been arrested multiple times for his marijuana advocacy initiatives and was the youngest person to appear in the own defense in front of the Supreme Court. In 2009, he was jailed for four months after his project, the Vancouver School of Drug War History and Organic Cultivation (aka The Herb School) was raided after more than three years in operation.
VICE: What’s the difference between decriminalization and legalization of marijuana?
DML: There are basically two kinds of decriminalization. When people think decrim, they think no punishment; decriminalization, taking it out of the criminal area and stopping punishing people. But when the Canadian government is talking about marijuana and decrim they usually mean punishment—switching, stopping giving people a criminal record, and instead giving them a non-criminal record and giving them fines. That’s the kind of decrim that would destroy the cannabis community and I think that kind of decrim is worse than no change at all.
So, in a sense, the non-criminal record is just like a criminal record?
Well, it acts just like a criminal record. It prevents you from being able to travel or get bonded. It’s trickery, is what it is. The Canadian government’s version of decrim is a way Liberal governments get elected and then they don’t even have to deliver on their shitty decrim. And thank goodness they don’t too, because they could just send cops out and ticket all the compassion clubs and bring-your-own-bud cafes and totally destroy us.
You’ve written about three different types of legalization, the coffee bean, the wine and the Prop 19 models. Could you explain these more?
Ok, aside from decrim which is either punishment elimination or punishment switching, depending on how good or bad it is, then I would say there are three versions of legalization. The coffee bean model is based on what we do with coffee beans right now, anyone can sell them, anyone can grow them, and anyone can use them. The wine model is for adults, and Prop 19 is more exclusive in that not any adult can grow and not any adult can deal, you have to be rich and well connected. That’s it in a nutshell.
Do you think if weed is legalized it would eliminate people buying on the black market? Or does the government have to control the means of distribution?
I’m ok with people buying from other people, just like I’m ok with people buying tomatoes from a gardener who happens to grow too many to eat. I don’t think anything anybody does will stop that, but what legalization will do is create stores, retail outlets, places to go where you can count on there being lots of different kinds of cannabis and probably the finest quality cannabis. I think that’ll shift people if it’s done properly, if you include all the talented growers and not exclude them because they’ve got criminal records for growing. If you include everybody then I think a lot of people will switch to the stores because they like variety and they like quality.
David touring us around his herbology museum from B.C. Bud.
Legalization enters it into the free market, capitalist world then.
Yeah, supposedly all these conservatives are interested in freedom and free markets but when it comes to cannabis, they’re afraid of the free market. I believe in the free market with limitations, I don’t think you should be able to poison people and get away with it. I don’t think chemical fertilizers and pesticides should be legal. I think the only growing allowed should be organic.
Speaking of poison substances being legal, will what we see with alcohol and cigarettes be the norm with marijuana as well? Is that fear we should have?
It’s a totally justified fear. In the case of Prop 19 or the current “legal” structure in Washington state with I-502 being passed, you have a situation where in I-502 people aren’t allowed to grow at all at home and it’s basically a monopoly for the retail outlets. In Prop-19, you were allowed to grow one big plant if you had your landlord’s permission or if you owned your own home. And that was one big plant per household. So that also guarantees the retailers that a lot of people would have to go to them. Any legalization model that does not include a liberal allowance for home-grow operations is a monopoly of sorts; it will force people to have to buy from retailers. Now, if you also combine that with hard to get licenses, then those retailers are going to make millions of dollars and they’re going to also put out of work all the hundreds of thousands of growers.
Is that what you mean when you say Prop-19 is ‘fake’ legalization?
That’s right. It’ll create a few very, very rich growers and a few very, very rich retailers and everyone else is out of work. I think that’s fucked! The beauty of the pot economy is that it’s decentralized. Anyone can get into it, anyone can make a decent living at it, it doesn’t cost a lot, and there are no tuition fees. The cost of soil and organic nutrients and seeds is not prohibitive and doesn’t exclude people from the market. You can come up with the cash to get going on growing. But what our rulers and what some small minded or greedy activists want to do is create a hierarchical, exclusive economy out of the last remaining inclusive economy on planet Earth. It angers me, because I think it betrays humanity to take this one remaining free market and destroy it.
In terms of what the Liberal leadership platform has put forward, do you buy it?
[Laughs] Do I buy it? I would have to be blind to that last 40 years of Liberal promises to think that I should just, you know…. let’s put it this way, we’re going to have to put a hell of a lot more pressure on Justin Trudeau when he becomes Prime Minister than the activists put pressure on his dad in order to get things done because the Liberals are—I apologize if I offend any Liberal supporters—the windsock of politicians. They’ll go wherever the wind blows. Activists in the pot community and the Canadian public in general need to blow hard for legalization and blow them right into an ethical model of legalization. I just don’t see them doing it on their own. But I think you can pressure Trudeau a lot more easily than you can pressure Harper.
I guess it takes completely bottoming out in order to re-evaluate your priorities.
[Laughs] Yeah, if they were on top there would be no incentive to come up with anything attractive to voters and I think what the pot activist community has done is put this on centre stage. With Colorado and Washington state legalizing, you have a model you can point to and say: “Look, us Canadians want everything those Coloradans have.” We can put more pressure on them that way.