Three years ago, I visited Amsterdam. The city is a thrilling, photogenic maze of canals, cobbles and art museums. Amsterdam is also known for its coffeeshops with cannabis products.
Cannabis is not legal in The Netherlands, only tolerated. In Amsterdam’s Red Light District, the coffeeshops are filled with tourists, especially from the United Kingdom. The majority of Amsterdam’s teenagers aren’t interested in attending these coffeeshops, existing in the city since 1967. For many Dutch teens, marijuana is something the tourists use.
When I returned to England, I saw the usual things in a country where prohibition is imbedded into the national fabric. Teens were smoking weed by the Kennet and Avon Canal in Bath or chugging on Moroccan smoke with vapes in Bristol’s shopping precinct, acting cool and rebellious.
Legalization, or Amsterdam-styled decriminalization, steals the glamour and swagger from cannabis. In a 2011 issue of the journal, Addiction, Robert J. MacCoun – a professor specializing in public policy in Berkeley – produced a study proving a lesser rate of Dutch teens smoked marijuana compared to American teens, although the Netherlands produces 50 to 150 metric tonnes of cannabis per year.
When Colorado started the legalization process in 2014, many thought the teens in Denver and Boulder would succumb to a 21st form of unhinged reefer madness. However, author Christopher Ingraham reproduced data from a federal survey in 2017, proving teens were smoking cannabis at a lower rate after legalization compared to 2007 and 2008, although a peak in usage briefly existed in the winter of 2014. Soon after, marijuana become as dull as Father’s mouldy housecoat.
The point is, marijuana is a relaxant with an overdramatic past. Blame Harry J. Anslinger, who became the first commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1930. Before 1930, Anslinger apparently didn’t believe marijuana was a serious issue. After all, cannabis had been used for thousands of years in Asia and Europe. However, some thought he made marijuana into a problem to keep the federal agents in business after the act to prohibit alcohol in the United States was repealed in 1933. In 1937, Anslinger began a lengthy campaign to prohibit cannabis in the United States. According to Anslinger’s narrative, cannabis was spreading up through the country from the Mexican border. Sounds familiar, eh? “Marihauna is a short cut to the insane asylum,” Anslinger declared, specifically choosing to call cannabis by a name with Mexican roots.
By the 1960s, despite Anslinger’s dedicated efforts to keep cannabis prohibited, the use of the plant skyrocketed amongst the country’s youth. Anslinger’s prohibition aspirations had transformed cannabis into a counterculture weapon. In contrast, during the early 1900s, cannabis was often the primary ingredient in medicinal extracts sold in drug stores. Cannabis was now the drug of choice for beatniks, vagabonds, jazz musicians and rock stars, all thanks to Mr. Anslinger.
Canada is moving in the right direction by legalizing cannabis. By having a legal system involving regulation, distribution and controlled sales, we are making marijuana dull and uninteresting to Canadian teens – teenagers should never use recreational cannabis. Moreover, we are adding sales and taxes from adult purchases into the legal economy.
Finally, I believe harder drugs such as cocaine or heroin should remain illegal, but an improved way to regulate these addictive, poisonous substances is through harm reduction – a process involving counselling, therapy and medication, rather than through forced-detox and banishment into the prison system.