Dana Larsen: 4/20 is cheap, the weed war is expensive

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      Media coverage of Vancouver's 4/20 protest festival is very different from that given to every other event in the city. While stories about festivals like Vaisakhi or the Pride Parade focus on the revenues generated by local businesses and the economic benefits these community events bring, our cannabis event is viciously attacked in the media as some kind of drain on civic resources.

      Yet in fact, the complete opposite is true. B.C.'s cannabis industry is one of our province's biggest economic engines. The cannabis industry and associated businesses employ hundreds of thousands of people across the province, bringing wealth and prosperity to many rural and urban communities. Without the strength of their local cannabis industry, many regions of our province would have long since become destitute ghost towns.

      The real waste of money is not the trivial amount spent hosting the 4/20 protest festival once a year. The true drain on city resources is the massive cost of enforcing cannabis prohibition.

      Canada spends about $1.2 billion a year enforcing our archaic and bigoted laws against cannabis. If we divide that figure up evenly across the country, we see that our share in Metro Vancouver is about $84 million a year, which comes to over $230,000 every single day!

      "Canada spends about 1.2 billion dollars a year enforcing cannabis prohibition. In Metro Vancouver, our share of that cost comes to over $230,000 every single day!"

      Where's the headlines about this massive waste of money? While newspapers fall over themselves to be scandalized by 100 grand going toward policing 4/20 once a year, they are silent about the much bigger expense of fighting the pointless war against cannabis plants and those who use them.

      Vancouver owes its cannabis community a big debt of gratitude

      The fact is that Vancouver's cannabis activists have saved the city many millions of dollars over the years. Vancouver used to waste major police resources raiding bong shops and busting people for selling vaporizers. Our activism put an end to that practice, allowing the VPD to focus on solving real crimes that actually cause harm.

      The same goes for cannabis possession. It was our community activism that changed the VPD policy on cannabis, stopping the wasteful practice of making arrests for a few grams of bud. This has saved local taxpayers many millions of dollars over the years, as well as keeping our court system available for more important cases.

      All of Vancouver owes a debt of gratitude to our local cannabis community. The bravery and sacrifice of local activists have saved our city many millions of dollars, and created better policing which benefits everyone in our city.

      "Vancouver's cannabis activist community has saved the city millions of dollars by helping to reform police practices and stop wasting time and money on minor cannabis arrests."

      Local dispensaries also save taxpayer's money as well, in several important ways. Studies from the U.S. have shown that access to local cannabis dispensaries reduces use of opiates and associated overdoses by about 25 percent. Given this information, we can determine that we'd have 25 percent more opiate overdoses in Vancouver without the presence of dispensaries.

      Given the high social and economic costs of the current opiate crisis, it's clear that dispensaries are already saving lives, and saving money, by offering a safer alternative to opiate use. Another way dispensaries save money is by reducing our health-care costs.

      Recent studies have shown that medical cannabis users are able to dramatically reduce their use of pharmaceutical drugs, which are generally subsidized through our health-care system. When a patient gets better relief from cannabis and is able to stop using pharmaceuticals, that improves their quality of life, and also saves the system a considerable expense.

      Dispensaries also save money by providing a safer alternative to alcohol and other drugs. In the same way that many patients substitute cannabis for more expensive and dangerous pharmaceuticals, many users substitute cannabis for alcohol, tobacco, and street drugs. When someone switches from alcohol, tobacco, or street drugs and begins using cannabis instead, they are making a responsible choice, and they're also saving us all significant costs in health care and policing.

      It's time for Vancouver to recognize that the cannabis activists are right, and that the cannabis community deserves equal treatment. A cannabis protest like 4/20 costs very little. The real waste of taxpayers' money is the ongoing cost of using our police and court system to harass, punish, and imprison people over cannabis.