Tilting at a windmill — with neither lance nor horse

The man is in his late 20s, thin, with a soul patch and moustache, a leather jacket with his cap facing back. He was just about shaking with rage and there were times during the interview when I wondered if he was going to come across the table at me.

Walking home from the pub at 3 a.m., he had been stopped by the cops, he said, arrested for public intoxication and left to stew in the squad car before being taken to the drunk tank. 

He’d had a small amount of marijuana on his person at the time, he said, for which he was charged with possession.

That, far more than having to spend some non-quality time in the tank, was what really had him riled.

The law, he told me in a voice loud enough to eventually make the people at the next table get up and leave, was morally wrong and had to be changed.

Where was the victim? he asked. Why was this a crime?

The law that criminalizes anyone who smokes marijuana is immoral, he almost shouted, and he was going to change that law, whatever it took, even if that meant going to the Supreme Court.

He was serious, too, and, despite his aggressive and not particularly pleasant demeanor, I felt for him. 

No, I didn’t like his approach and there were parts of the story that, to be honest, I found hard to credit. However, once you clear away the extraneous detail and his obvious dislike of the cops, he actually did present what I see at least to be a kernel of truth.

Like the man seething across the table from me, I don’t think it’s particularly moral to criminalize a large sector of society because they choose to smoke marijuana. 

Yeah, it’s probably not very good for you, but then, neither is booze and, to be honest, I would rather, in a dark alley, be faced with a guy who giggles at things he finds hilarious — but really aren’t — than a belligerent drunk who wants to beat the tar out of me just because he can.

I look at the lives destroyed, not because the plant is particularly toxic, but rather, because of society’s prohibition of it and I know there are some highly effective individuals out there who smoke pot and whose lives could be entirely ruined — not from the weed, but from being busted for it.

It’s an old argument and it has been made many times. It has been tried in court and numerous initiatives have been launched to end this unfair prohibition, with very limited success to date.

My friend across the table was unaware of much of this history, of the Ledain Commission, NORML Canada, Emily Murphy or really much of anything about the history of this fight, but there he was, unemployed, uninformed and with virtually no resources to join this titanic battle which at least one of us knew he was talking about taking on.

All he had was his rage — and that’s not going to cut it.

I shook his hand and wished him luck. Maybe he felt better after talking to me. I don’t know.

What I do know is that there are more of him out there, some more highly functioning, some less, who all at their core harbour the same question of our legal system in Canada: Why are you doing this to me?


Neil Horner is the assistant editor of The Parksville Qualicum News and a regular columnist. He lives in Qualicum Bay


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