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“Let’s forget about the pot-heads…” reads an editorial in the Vancouver Province as, after decades of remaining on the sidelines, Vancouver’s “marijuana problem” takes centre stage.
“The policemen who must deal with Vancouver’s marijuana problem are worried that the public may view offenders as crusading intellectuals earnestly battling unjust narcotics laws. Some statements in sensationalist journals might seem to support such a view. But the facts turned up by police investigation puncture the illusion. Of 48 individuals arrested in recent months, six had jobs (only one of them steady), seven were students and the remaining 35 were unemployed. Police classed 22 of them as beatniks.”
“Most of them are degenerate slobs whose use of ‘pot’ (slang for marijuana) is just a symptom of character weakness,” a “leading drug squad officer” is quoted as saying. “They are a menace to nobody but themselves – except that their generally low morals tend to degrade the neighbourhood.”
Then, with mounting horror, the article goes on to name three seperate organizations at the University of British Columbia which are working “on behalf of marijuana smokers: One, called C-11, or The November 11 Committee, was formed to give marijuana offenders legal advice; a branch of the Civil Liberties Association is working toward legalization of marijuana; a group called the Quadra Institute for Advance Studies has expressed sympathy for convicted smokers.”
Drug prohibition laws in Canada effectively began in Vancouver, after a 1908 visit by then-deputy Minister of Labour William Lyon Mackenzie King led to the creation of the Opium Act, the country’s first anti-narcotic legislation. Push from moral reformers on the west coast also led to stiffer penalties being enacted in the 1920s, and, in 1923, cannabis was added to Canada’s restricted substances list. However, before 1961, marijuana made up only 2% of drug arrests nationwide, and, in Vancouver, was involved in only 6 drug-related offences during that time.
However, as newspaper and magazine articles of the times noted, Vancouver played host to more drug users than any other city in the country, and, by the late 1950s, Columbia and Hastings was being named in a MacLean’s article as “Canada’s most notorious underworld rendezvous.” In the 1950s, Vancouver Community Chest released a report which was endorsed by both the Sun and the Province, which recommended a three-tiered approach of rehabilitation clinics, education initiatives, and – most controversially of all, clinics where addicts could obtain minimum dosages of drugs. However, following a 1952 report commissioned by an alarmed Federal Government, attitudes in Vancouver, and the report’s recommendations were shelved indefinitely.
“Perhaps if the members of these (and other) organizations got their information from the police instead of beatnik propagandists they would discover that they’re wasting a lot of time and energy,” the paper concludes, disdainfully. “There must be more worthwhile causes in this world than the ‘rights’ of pot-smokers who deliberately risk penalties ranging up to life in prison.”
By 2011, marijuana exports from British Columbia will total close to $6 billion, and, in Vancouver alone, authorities will estimate that there are between 2000 and 3000 illegal grow operations.
IMAGE: Crowds gather at the Maple Leaf Theatre, for the premier of “Reefer Madness”, circa 1930. Text on banners reads: “Assassin of Youth!” and “Weed With Roots in Hell!” Image Courtesy of the Vancouver Public Library.