Jodie Emery, wife of marijuana activist Marc Emery, spoke at ideacity about why marijuana should be legalized.
Jodie Emery speaking at ideacity 2012. Photo by Jeff Higgins.
In a city that plays host to many thousands of marijuana-rights activists annually at the Toronto Global Marijuana March, the 420 smoke-in, and, most recently, the Treating Yourself Expo, it might seem hard to fathom that people are doing hard time for marijuana-related crimes.
“The war on drugs has always been worse in the United States, but it’s getting a lot worse every year in Canada, especially under the ultra-conservative Tories in power with majority government,” said Jodie Emery, wife of imprisoned marijuana-rights activist Marc Emery. She was in town this month to speak at Moses Znaimer’s ideacity conference.
“Harper’s anti-drug crime bills have, for the first time in Canada’s history, introduced mandatory-minimum prison sentences for pot,” she added. “A policy widely condemned in the United States as an expensive failure in many ways.”
According to Emery, mandatory minimums may mean thousands of non-violent Canadians are guaranteed to be imprisoned for increased periods of time, at a cost of billions of tax dollars. In the United States, more than 20 million Americans have been in jail on charges related to marijuana since 1965. To put this is perspective, that would be like combining the population of Ontario and British Columbia, then throwing in a scattering of people from other provinces, and imprisoning them all.
“The prohibition laws cause more harm than does the substance itself,” said Emery. “So why does this continue?”
During her impassioned speech at ideacity, Emery spoke of families being separated, of people losing their jobs and their homes, and of people who once used marijuana to manage their illnesses growing sicker behind bars. She emphasized the human cost of the war on drugs, and also the growing support for legalization. According to Emery, polls have long shown that Canadians want marijuana legalized, and that the idea is more and more popular every year, everywhere. An unscientific, digital poll at ideacity showed that the overwhelming majority of those in attendance, 84 per cent, were pro-marijuana (though the poll question didn’t ask about legalization or decriminalization specifically).
As Znaimer asked the crowd: does there come a moment when resisting common sense no longer makes sense? Does the dig-your-heels-in attitude of the government simply amount to fanaticism?
“The war on drugs is maintained and advocated for by fanatics. I think that’s fair to say,” Emery agreed. “They refuse to see the numerous rational, logical reasons why prohibition has failed in so many ways.”
According to Emery, some of those failures include no reduction in the problems marijuana laws are supposed to resolve, huge expense to taxpayers and communities, and richer, more powerful gangs with more potent drugs.
“It’s not just marijuana activists calling for an end to prohibition,” she said. “Politicians, health experts, law enforcement, the judiciary, and so many others are on board. We just need to get citizens and political representatives to make that final push.”
That’s what Emery aimed to achieve during her talk in Toronto. Her goal was to have the audience take action to help end what she calls a massive, costly, and unjust human-rights crisis.
“Many prohibitionists enjoy the idea of making ‘bad people’ suffer, and wish to punish all illegal drug users, even though there are many legal drug addicts who don’t face criminal persecution and moral condemnation,” Emery said, during an interview after her talk. “There is absolutely no good argument to maintain prohibition. None. I’ve debated it extensively, and all the evidence is easily available to see. Generally, we’ve won the battle for people’s minds, but there’s a lot more that we’re up against. Gangs and police are the biggest supporters for continuing prohibition, and they have the guns and money. But hopefully people power will win in the end.”