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Still monkeying around on pot legalization

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There's a famous experiment in the annals of learning. It involves a jar, a banana and a monkey. I know it sounds very similar to jokes that start, "There was a priest, a rabbi and a minister," but that's where the similarity ends.

The experiment goes like this. The banana is put inside the jar and the jar is put inside a room. So is the monkey. Put inside the room, that is, not inside the jar. It's not that big a jar. The monkey being a monkey and the banana being a banana, it doesn't take long for the monkey to notice the banana and decide he/she would really like to eat it. This is where it gets good.

You see, the mouth of the jar is big enough to slip a banana through and it's big enough to slip a monkey's hand through but it's not big enough to slip a monkey's hand holding a banana through. You can see where this is the kind of experiment clinicians get a kick out of.

The monkey reaches into the jar, grabs the banana — all the time dreaming about eating the banana with abandon but thinking, "Boy this sure ain't nothing like the jungle" — and tries to get it out of the jar. Doesn't work. Now the monkey has a problem.

The monkey doesn't want to let go of the banana. He — let's call the monkey he, I'm getting tired of he/she and besides, it's always easier to make a monkey out of a man than a woman — wants the banana out of the jar but can't quite figure out, the monkey brain not being sophisticated enough to comprehend these things, how to accomplish that unless he lets go of the banana. Even to a monkey brain it doesn't make sense to let go of the banana to get it out of the jar.

The rest of the experiment isn't really important but I know you're on pins and needles wanting to know what happens next. If the monkey is smart, he finally figures out he has to hold onto the banana, run briskly toward the wall of the room, smash the jar against the wall, very likely severing the veins in his wrist, and quickly finish the banana before he bleeds to death. Just kidding. He figures out he has to turn the jar upside down and shake the banana out. Either that or evolve enough to build a nuclear weapon of mass destruction, which is what some guys who act a lot like monkeys would do.

The point of the experiment, of course, is to determine the monkey's ability to appraise a situation, weigh alternatives and come up with a solution that will work, work being the imperative here. The point of this long introduction — other than to amuse you and gobble up close to 500 words — is this: If the men in government who set policy on cannabis were placed in a room with a banana in a jar, they'd still have their hand stuck inside it after close to 85 years.

I'm not advocating letting monkeys set Canada's national policy on cannabis — we've already tried that. I am suggesting you have to be pretty stupid to stick with a policy that doesn't work, costs gobs of money, turns otherwise productive people into criminals, clogs the courts and alienates vast segments of the citizenry, resulting in many of them having no respect whatsoever for the rule of law. Seems to me that smart monkeys would appraise the situation and try something else.

So why is pot illegal? Pot's illegal because it's bad for us, right? Wrong. Unless you consider feelings of euphoria, relaxation, well being and sociability bad. That's what the Canadian Senate, a number of years ago, before their expenses got audited, concluded the main effects of smoking pot were after they closed the door, figured out how to get the joints out of a jar and tried it themselves. Just kidding. Their research staff did that. Actually they held hearings and did a pretty exhaustive examination of the "scientific" literature on pot.

They also found pot impaired short-term memory, concentration and some psychomotor skills. You're probably thinking to yourself, "Gee, throw in a bar-room brawl and it sounds a lot like having a few drinks." Well, yes... and no. They also found no long-term effects on cognitive functions, no hangovers, no ability to smoke yourself to death and far fewer health problems than with alcohol.

So why is pot really illegal? There are two interesting reasons. The first is well known and understood by anyone who was ever a child. It's because people in power don't trust powerless people to choose their own fun. There are simply lots of folks out there — probably suffering from chronic constipation — who don't want you to have fun unless it's a kind of fun they approve of.

The second is because reefer is a jungle bunny drug. It's black. It's Hispanic. It's, oh so southern hemisphere. It came out of the ghetto and those same constipated people are convinced it will lead us all back there sooner or later.

Whatever. No big deal, right? No one gets popped for pot anymore, right? Wrong.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse is doing something very, ah, Canadian. It's calling for another broad review of marijuana policy in light of the experience in Colorado and Washington, where it is now legal in both a medical and recreational sense.

Among other nuggets in their proposal is this one. In 2012, there were 57,429 drug crimes — whatever they are — reported by police. Marijuana possession accounted for more than half. Still think possession is no big deal?

Chances are good nothing will come of the Centre's proposal. It's only one of more than 400 hopeful submissions to the House finance committee for funding in next year's budget. But given the animus the current Harpocritic government has towards pot, chances for funding are more or less up in smoke.

Oh, pot will be an election issue. With Trudeau calling for full legalization, the NDP calling for the more wishy-washy decriminalization and the Cons taking every opportunity to paint the Liberal leader as your friendly, neighbourhood pusher, it'll be an issue.

But don't hold your breath for any relief from the current regime of more busts and more prisons... especially if you've just taken a toke.

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