Former United States Attorney calls on Canada to regulate and tax marijuana

John McKay, who prosecuted Vancouver’s Marc Emery, says cannabis prohibition is a threat to public safety on both sides of the border

[April 18, 2012, Vancouver, BC]¬¬—A high-profile former United States Attorney with a history of fighting the cross-border marijuana trade is urging Washington State lawmakers and Canadians to regulate and tax marijuana as a strategy to combat organized crime and improve public health and safety.

John McKay, who was appointed U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington State by President George W. Bush in 2001, says Canada and the U.S. should reject today’s ineffective and harmful anti-marijuana law enforcement strategies in favour of a regulated public health approach to marijuana control.

McKay, who served as U.S. Attorney until 2007, was the federal prosecutor who obtained indictments of Marc Emery, a B.C.-based marijuana activist who was sentenced to five years in U.S. prison for selling marijuana seeds to U.S. customers in 2010.

“The belief that we support public health and community safety through the enforcement of marijuana laws is misguided and destructive,” says McKay, who spoke at a Stop the Violence BC lecture in Vancouver, Canada today. “Marijuana prohibition in British Columbia and Washington State has fuelled a massive illegal industry that is profitable, exceptionally violent, and a proven threat to public safety and security on both sides of the border.”

McKay’s experience combating cross-border gangs and the drug trade – which sees B.C. marijuana head south in exchange for fire-arms and cocaine that head north – has convinced him to support Washington Initiative 502, which will be on the 2012 statewide ballot. If passed, the initiative will allow for the taxation and regulation of marijuana in Washington State, with revenues earmarked for substance-abuse prevention and education, and healthcare.

McKay joins a growing chorus of law enforcement and health officials – including the Health Officers Council of B.C. – who publicly support the regulation and taxation of marijuana. Recently, a total of eight former Vancouver mayors and provincial attorneys general have spoken in favour of taxation and regulation of marijuana to improve public safety.

“Cannabis prohibition is ineffective, expensive and, without question, contributes to the growth of organized crime,” says Geoff Plant, who served as B.C. attorney general from 2001 to 2005. “Widespread gang violence, easy access to illegal cannabis, significant costs to taxpayers and cross-border organized crime concerns all result from our failed approach to drug policy.”

McKay is adamant that a regulated cannabis market in Canada and/or the U.S. will not affect cross-border commerce and traffic, and calls politically motivated assertions to the contrary misleading.

“Rest assured, the U.S. would not take punitive action against Canada that would hinder billions in cross-border trade if Canadian marijuana laws were reformed,” he said. “Canada and the United States should reform and align marijuana laws. Both federal governments have fallen well behind many U.S. states in terms of enacting progressive marijuana policy reforms.”

Sixteen U.S. states, as well as the District of Columbia, have passed laws allowing some degree of medical use of marijuana. Fourteen U.S. states have taken steps to decriminalize marijuana possession and 2012 will see ballot initiatives to overturn marijuana prohibition in Washington State and Colorado.

Despite McKay’s connection with prosecuting high-profile cannabis cases, his request to regulate and tax marijuana is welcomed by others making similar calls for changes to Canada’s legislation.

“It’s heartening to see such a diverse cross-section of law enforcement and public health experts come together and agree that an evidence-based approach to marijuana taxation and regulation makes sense at so many levels,” says Jodie Emery, wife of Marc Emery.

“Current policies towards marijuana are unnecessarily punitive, and serve to persecute ordinary citizens and ruin lives by hindering their ability to work and fully contribute to society.”

McKay, Jodie Emery and Geoff Plant have endorsed Stop the Violence BC (STVBC), a coalition of academic, legal, law enforcement and health experts, and its campaign to overturn marijuana prohibition and reduce the harms associated with the illegal marijuana trade, including gang violence. They appeared together on a panel hosted by STVBC on April 18 in Vancouver.

For a full replay of McKay’s lecture and the following media conference with Jodie Emery, please see http://stoptheviolencebc.org/2012/04/16/former-us-attorney-john-mckay-video/. The link will go live at 5 p.m., PDT, on April 18.

  • To join the STVBC conversation, please visit the STVBC Facebook page (www.facebook.com/StoptheViolenceBC).
  • Updates on the campaign are publicly available on Twitter (www.twitter.com/stvbc).
  • To read the coalition’s first two reports, discover more about the coalition and upcoming events, and learn how to support the effort, please visit www.stoptheviolencebc.org.

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About Stop the Violence BC

Stop the Violence BC is a coalition of law enforcement officials, legal experts, public health officials and academic experts from the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, University of Victoria and the University of Northern BC. Coalition members have come together to engage all British Columbians in a discussion aimed at developing and implementing marijuana-related policies that improve public health while reducing social harms, including violent crime.

For a full listing of coalition members and to learn more about the coalition, please visit www.stoptheviolencebc.org.

For quotes from coalition members, photos and links to downloadable videos of coalition members speaking about the report, please visit www.stoptheviolencebc.org/coalition-members/.

Media: To interview Dr. Evan Wood, founder, Stop the Violence BC coalition, please contact:

Mahafrine Petigara
Edelman
604 623 3007 ext. 297
mahafrine.petigara@edelman.com

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