I-502: Would legalizing pot kill organized crime in British Columbia?

Marijuana activist Michelle Rainey passed away from cancer in Maple Ridge, B.C. in 2010. - Photo: Contributed to Maple Ridge News
Marijuana activist Michelle Rainey passed away from cancer in Maple Ridge, B.C. in 2010.
— image credit: Photo: Contributed to Maple Ridge News

With the Washington Initiative 502 (I-502) on America's always-active legal docket, questions and softballs are being thrown B.C.'s way.

If passed on Washington's November 2012 ballot, the new bill would dice up the very sticky status of marijuana. Small amounts would be legal for most adults aged 21 and older, they would then be taxed, and revenues would be shot back into buoy costs for healthcare and substance abuse prevention and education.

According to two contributors for the Seattle Times – UBC professor Evan Wood and David Bratzer – the law would also curb organized crime in British Columbia.

"Are you aware that passing Initiative 502 is one of the best ways to reduce international gang violence?" they begin. "Like the violent cartels gripping Mexico, British Columbia is affected by the organized-crime groups which control its huge marijuana industry. These gangs produce and export BC Bud to American consumers, including the 6.8 million residents of Washington state.

"Economists have estimated the local market to be worth up to $7 billion annually. The fight for these riches explains why Seattle’s former top federal prosecutor, John McKay, has said, 'British Columbia-based gangs smuggling high-grade pot are the dominant organized crime in the Northwest.'"

And so, there you have it.

Was the solution always that simple? If it was, why has it taken so long?

The argument is comparable to the Prohibition debate of Gatsby-era North America, where an illegal ban of alcohol – which lasted longer in different provinces and states – opened up a new business model and massive profits for organized crime in the United States. It gave way to a whole new era of institutionalized violence, led by the Cosa Nostra, or the Mafia.

Think Al Capone and Lucky Luciano, then think Supply and Demand.


I-502 Revenue Sharing - Washington Marijuana Law

Source: Donivian DeMar (Wikimedia Commons)


In 1920, it was B.C. quickly cancelling Prohibition while Washington sat idly by for 12 bloody years before they killed the law in 1932. Now, with Washington about to pass I-502 and B.C. acting pedestrian to it all, Wood says the tables have turned.

"With respect to the harms of anti-cannabis laws, Washington state voters could set an example for Canada, while also ending a system where demand for cannabis directly contributes to organized crime and gang violence," Wood writes.

"By every measure, marijuana prohibition has failed to achieve its stated objectives."

Wood notes that the currently laws banning marijuana haven't stopped the drug from being available to anyone who wishes to smoke it.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has reported that between 80 and 90 per cent of American 12th graders say marijuana is "very easy" or "fairly easy" to obtain.

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