“Legalizing Marijuana” event discusses problems in legislation

Education, increased demand, equity among problems

“Legalizing Marijuana” event discusses problems in legislation

In anticipation of the federal government’s plan to legalize marijuana next summer, an event titled “Legalizing Marijuana: How to Get it Right?” was hosted on November 14 to discuss important issues surrounding legalization, including how to educate consumers and how to deal with large increases in demand. The event was organized by the U of T Political Science Alumni Association and took place at St. Michael’s College.

The panel, moderated by CBC News reporter Jacqueline Hansen, featured Bill Blair, current MP and former Toronto Police Chief; the Honourable Yasir Naqvi, Attorney General of Ontario; Michael Lickver, Executive Vice President of marijuana financing company Cannabis Wheaton; and Dr. Kwame McKenzie, CEO of Wellesley Institute, an urban health think tank.

Canada’s plan to legalize marijuana states that the federal government will be in charge of monitoring the quality of cannabis, while the provinces and territories will decide how it’s sold, at what price, and the age limit. Ontario is proposing to sell marijuana in 150 stand-alone stores managed by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario while imposing an age limit of 19.

Speaking on the age limit, Naqvi emphasized that there would be no criminal record for underage youths caught breaking the law. Rather, the focus of the restriction is on “prevention and education… We want to make sure that we work with young people and convince them not to use the product.”

On the subject of education, McKenzie stressed that we still have a long way to go in terms of learning about the effects of marijuana.

“Can you take cannabis and then go work in a daycare? How much cannabis can you take before you go work on that building site? I’m not completely sure that we’re sure of the answers. There are some big issues out there that we need to know more about.”

“This isn’t a problem created by legalization,” argued Blair in response. “We’re not proposing to merely legalize. We’re lifting a prohibition… [and] you’re going to see a very significant public education campaign,” he added.

Lickver, speaking from an industry perspective, said that despite the government’s efforts, it is going to be “insanely difficult” to educate the public on the difference between black market cannabis and government-licensed cannabis due to the heavy restrictions on advertising.

According to Lickver, the government’s emphasis on establishing brick-and-mortar stores will also make it harder to promote legal cannabis, which he says will pose a convenience problem. “If I’m a consumer — and that doesn’t have to be hypothetical — I don’t want to go to a government-run store if it’s going to be less convenient for me than the guy who lives at the end of my hallway that I’ve been grabbing from for the past 20 years… Eventually we have to reach the UberEATS of cannabis”

According to Lickver, legalization could result in millions of new customers, thus greatly increasing the demand for cannabis.

“It’s really just a race now in terms of a land grab to ramp up production to ensure that there aren’t World War II era bread lines going down the street when these CCBO stores first open.”

According to McKenzie, emphasis on physical stores would make it difficult for marginalized populations to access legal cannabis. “My worry is that the lack of reach and distribution could lead to the criminalization of marginalized populations,” he said.

McKenzie further suggested that a solution to this problem could be using the extensive, albeit illegal, network of marijuana dispensaries that already exist. In response to this, Naqvi stated that “governments don’t work with illegal industries.”

“If you’re going to do it, you have to start somewhere. And you’ll never have perfection on day one…Yes, the timeline has been tight, but where there’s a will there’s a way.”

The federal government plans to legalize marijuana by July 2018.

Crack down on harassment, not protest

The ban on abortion facility protests, though well-intentioned, violates fundamental rights

Crack down on harassment, not protest

Last week, Attorney General of Ontario Yasir Naqvi announced the Safe Access to Abortion Services Act — a bill that, if passed, would no longer permit anti-abortion protests within a certain distance of abortion clinics, the homes of abortion providers, or pharmacies that sell pregnancy-terminating medications. The bill — partly motivated by an incident earlier in the year outside an abortion clinic in Ottawa, wherein a woman was spit on — would prevent any anti-abortion demonstrations within 50 metres of these facilities. The buffer zone could be expanded to up to 150 metres by ministerial order.

This idea has undeniably noble motives. It is crucial that women can access abortion services without being subjected to intimidation or harassment. There’s no question that being subjected to protesters may make a difficult situation even more difficult. However, disallowing all protests, without discriminating between those that are intimidating and those that are peaceful, is not the way forward.

The problem with this type of legislation is that it does not distinguish between protest that becomes violent and protest that remains civil. Although the government has every right, and indeed a strong responsibility, to protect women from harassment, the right to free assembly prohibits it from protecting women from protest itself.

No matter how unpopular a view may be, there should always be room within the law to express that view in a peaceful, non-intimidating, and non-harassing demonstration. There must be a legal basis for a citizen to stand in the public square with a sign or a placard or a chant and demonstrate peacefully. The despicable acts of a handful of fanatics do not justify collapsing this foundational democratic principle.

It is true that pro-life demonstrations can still be held outside the prescribed distance from abortion clinics and pharmacies. However, it doesn’t follow from this that the right to protest has not been seriously infringed: the right to protest needs to entail the right to protest effectively.

The last few months have seen several high-profile protests, including the Women’s March in the wake of Donald Trump’s inauguration and the protests against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Disruption of the institutions being protested was a central objective of these popular movements. The Women’s March blocked major streets and public spaces in numerous cities and towns worldwide. At Standing Rock, some protesters literally tied themselves to construction equipment, making their physical bodies an obstacle to the project they opposed.

Protesters need the capacity to disrupt and disturb. It would not have been right to relegate these protests to other locations, constraining them to where they would do the least damage and robbing them of their capacity for impact. Disruptiveness, as long as there is no violence, is not justification for stifling protest. Without the capacity to meaningfully disrupt, a protest has almost no purpose at all.

That being said, even without outright harassment, the presence of the protesters, from the perspective of a woman seeking an abortion, can make an already difficult situation even harder. Many women who get abortions are likely already subjected to an unjust amount of shame and fear, and there are enough obstacles preventing them from getting the care they may need. This is an undoubtedly important point. According to Sandeep Prasad, Executive Director of the pro-choice advocacy group Action Canada for Sexual Health & Rights, “Supporting reproductive rights requires governments to recognize the intersecting barriers individuals face when trying to access health care.” Prasad is right. We need to be sensitive to the challenges that women already face when trying to access reproductive care, and we need to be careful not to add another.

However, the possibility that a protest may prevent women from getting an abortion cannot be a reason to prevent a protest from taking place. We can’t prevent a protest because that protest is peacefully achieving its objective. As wrong as the ideology behind the protest may be, the fact that it might successfully do so cannot be a reason to make it illegal; the right to protest needs to apply equally to all points of view.

There is no ‘right to protest insofar as the government supports your position.’ There is no ‘right to protest as long as your protest doesn’t actually make a difference.’ The right to protest needs to be blind to content, ideology, and perspective. Fundamental rights don’t have normative qualifiers.

Women should not be harassed by protesters, and we should make sure that laws prohibiting harassment and intimidation effectively prevent that from happening. But the right to peaceful demonstration is sacred, and it cannot be forestalled because it might work, regardless of how destructive that result may be.

And that right cuts both ways. Pro-choice and women’s rights advocacy groups can provide women the support they need by lobbying for public information campaigns about reproductive health, pushing for more expansive sex education, and making contraception free and accessible. Just because people have the right to protest abortion doesn’t mean we can’t, or shouldn’t, openly oppose their point of view.

Measures should be taken to protect women from harassment and intimidation by protesters. It seems only sensible that this issue should be addressed by tightening existent laws against harassment and intimidation by protesters, or creating new ones, rather than by infringing the right to protest.

Zach Rosen is a second-year student at Trinity College studying History and Philosophy. He is The Varsity’s Current Affairs Columnist.