A former top U.S. law enforcement official who prosecuted marijuana activist Marc Emery says prohibition of the drug is a failed policy in North America.
John McKay, who served as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington State, is among those calling for marijuana to be taxed and regulated.
“Criminal prohibition of marijuana is a complete failure,” he said during an event organized by the anti-prohibition group Stop the Violence B.C.
“It’s a failure in the United States. I would respectfully offer that it’s a failure here in Canada as well.”
McKay said marijuana prohibition fuels a violent, organized crime-controlled black market that is a threat to public safety on both sides of the border.
“I think it’s time to rethink our criminalization policy and prohibition policy on marijuana,” he said.
Emery’s wife, Jodie, sat beside McKay at the event and welcomed his support in the campaign to change drug policy.
Jodie Emery said she understands McKay was just doing his duty as a law enforcement official when he prosecuted her husband.
However, she said she does not believe her husband should be in prison.
“I still miss him terribly but I understand that this law, the prohibition of marijuana, forces police to continue to arrest people and put them in prison,” she said.
“And when we get people who are on the front line, who saw the damage done, admit that the policy needs to be changed, I think that’s always a wonderful thing.”
McKay, a law professor at Seattle University, said he is speaking out now that he is no longer responsible for implementing U.S. drug laws.
He said he does not regret prosecuting Marc Emery, a Vancouver entrepreneur who admitted to selling marijuana seeds and is now serving time in a federal prison in the U.S.
“If that was Mr. Emery’s purpose, to change policy, I think he chose the wrong path,” McKay said.
In Washington State, McKay is also sponsoring a ballot initiative to allow marijuana to be taxed and regulated.
Geoff Plant, a former B.C. attorney general who also opposes marijuana prohibition, welcomed McKay’s efforts.
Plant said he is pleased to hear assurance from McKay that drug-policy reforms in Canada would not harm relations with the U.S.
Stop the Violence B.C., the organizers of today’s event at a downtown Vancouver hotel, is supported by officials from a range of fields including public health and law enforcement.
Evan Wood, founder of Stop the Violence B.C., said the province faces gang violence and organized crime problems because of the illegal marijuana industry.
“Although police have been acknowledging this, your average British Columbian, and Canadian for that matter, doesn’t know that all the grow-ops and all the organized crime concerns are really a direct result of marijuana prohibition,” he said.