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The Poor and The Criminal Voices 

The Poor and The Criminal

If it is possible to briefly suspend the question, “should grass be legalized or decriminalized?”, I would like to know something about the human factor of it all. Namely, “what are the devices that allow us to continue this ‘war on drugs’?”.

It is only fair, in light of the legalisation of marijuana, to say a few words. I think that is what many people would like to talk about, and the topic is interesting.

The goal of the Liberal party’s policy on Marijuana was clearly laid out in 2015: “To ensure that we keep marijuana out of the hands of children, and the profits out of the hands of criminals”. Reference is also made to “human trafficking and hard drugs”, obviously these are two equal dangers these “criminals” provide.[1]

The outlining of these principles is clever, and it sends subliminal messages to the reader. That those who deal in drugs are “criminals”, has to be understood to even comprehend the sentence. Of course, “criminal” is a special word that’s used in specific circumstances. For example, Stephen Harper is not a criminal, he is a retired politician. Men in suits are never criminals.

That they threaten our “children”, is a great rhetorical device to strike unquestionable fear against these lawbreakers. Additionally, establishing that “hard drugs” stand far and away from any consideration for acceptance, is useful for future action.

The way we could continue a war on drugs, is less obfuscated now. It consists of political talk that vilifies participation in the drug trade. Political action is not harmful. So when, this September, Trudeau signed a declaration in New York that pledged Canada’s allegiance to Washington’s “war on drugs”, it was clear that this form of rhetoric could persist by being accepted.[2]

Canada intervenes in Latin America, excusing itself under the pretense of fighting a “war on drugs”. CBC has reported on the situation of Belize in Central America. We’ve sent at least 2 million dollars to grow their police and forensic force, supplying military equipment and training as well.[3] Of course, in 2018, the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report acknowledged that the “country’s drug control efforts are hampered by corruption, insufficient investigative capacity, an ineffective judicial sector and a lack of political will”.[4] Yet, it is not irregular for Canada to finance corruption and perpetuate it. According to Grahame Russell, who has 20 years of experience working with a small NGO situated in Honduras, Canada financed corruption in Honduras, when Canada supported the 2009 coup, later giving the tyrannical governments some financing to ensure our mining interests were well preserved.[5]

In dealing with Latin America, we take after the United States, where Julien Mercille, a scholar, states “[t]he war on drugs has served as a pretext to intervene in Mexican affairs”.[6] Conveniently, the paramilitaries financed through this war help to violently quell labour dissent over our abusive mining operations.

There is an additional strangeness to the aversions we exhibit when confronting these issues. It was a common argument to hear that drink and smoke killed so much more than dope. Dope, that never killed a soul. But we like our wine and cigars.

There was common dissent among “conservatives”, supposed “libertarians” – you should have seen how they pushed their dirty laundry across the senate floor.[7] At the level of industry, free use of property is imperative. At the more unimportant question of the individual, it is up to the state to exert control.

The “war on drugs” can continue because of this readiness to denigrate and abuse the poor. It is their image we associated with that of the convict. It is commonly accepted that the poor get the criminal court and the rich, the civil court. Our standards for evaluating the guilt of the impoverished being amazingly low. On the other hand, a lot of consideration has to go into second guessing the rich. Businessmen can destroy the environment or sneak around taxes with impunity, because these crimes, although harmful on a much larger scale, are legal to begin with.

When we did not decriminalize pot for three years – although possession thereof, was then accepted to not be indicative of a “dangerous character”, otherwise destructive to society – it was this general ambivalence towards the suffering of the poor that popped up again into our response.

For some, there are pardons on the horizon. However, the government does not eliminate the obligation for convicts to admit to their legal mishaps on job and housing applications.[8] It’s been recommended that the records be expunged, but of course, in line with their philosophy, the present government will move past this suggestion.[9]

These are not simply outlines of a crisis which relate to the “war on drugs”. The devices that motivate the discussion on narcotics, motivate the discussion of policy in other areas. We accept and promote the suffering of the international poor: the “lower” class, the “less than human”. Our attitudes towards them have become deeply ingrained. Changing our attitudes towards the poor, even in our own minds, becomes an act of conscious will, and a rebellion against the material superficialisms of political parties.


Written by: Samuel Helguero


[1] See “Marijuana” under “2015 Platform” of the Liberal party’s website.





[6] Mercille, Julien. Violent Narco-Cartels or US Hegemony? The political economy of the ‘war on drugs’ in Mexico.




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