I’ve received some great feedback from my last article, ‘Is the legalisation of cannabis racist?’ One reader in particular pushed back on my argument, which I have paraphrased as follows (to make good sense of this, I recommend you also re-read my article).
Thank you, Mark, for your article.
I believe you argue in good faith, but I think there is a deep flaw in your argument. Currently, cannabis IS sold in low-income neighbourhoods through gang-run tinny houses, and other places of wider criminality. No amount of policing has ever changed this. The involvement of gangs in the cannabis trade increases the likelihood that users are also turned towards other drugs, like methamphetamine. But by legalising cannabis and taking this market away from gangs, there is the potential to dramatically reduce harm in these neighbourhoods, even if legal shops move in.
Thank you for your email and counter-argument. I really appreciate it. You raise a great question. This sort of interaction helps move the discussion forward.
First, I want to acknowledge that your argument is one of the better reasons to support legalisation. I think most people can agree that it would be better to buy cannabis from a government-regulated business than from a seedy criminal organization or gang. I think we can all agree that buying from a regulated business would be better than buying from a gang.
Unfortunately, just because people would have the option to buy from a reputable business doesn’t mean that they will. It appears that in places such as the USA and Canada where cannabis has been legalised, the black-market cannabis industry continues to thrive. Why? Because it is not subject to government regulations, and thus can provide cheaper and stronger forms of cannabis. Given that other nations and states that have legalised cannabis have seen a marked increase in usage, I don’t think it’s a far stretch to imagine there will also be an increase in people wanting stronger forms of cannabis.
Secondly, my intention in writing the article was to respond to the claims that the argument against legalisation was racist. My main argument is that legalisation, at least as it has been presented by the NZ government, is a form of racism, or at the very least classism. Your response demonstrates that legalisation could be seen as less racist than the status quo, but that doesn’t mean it still isn’t racist (or classist).
Third, I haven’t made this argument before, but it is something to consider. Gangs and others who currently do profit from selling cannabis may, to make up possible loss in revenue, seek to sell an even more devastating product in higher quantities. Where are they going to sell these more devastating drugs? In the same communities that they currently sell cannabis. I very much doubt gangs are just going to lie down and let the government take all their profits. Gangs will realise they can make a whole lot more money when they don’t follow the rules.
Thank you again for your really thought-provoking argument. I still think though, that on the whole, proper, genuine decriminalisation is a better pathway forward than legalisation. Therefore, I would still encourage people to vote no in the upcoming referendum on cannabis legalisation.