Issue # 21 March 2023
Black Rose Books has announced that my book Buzz Kill: The Corporatization of Cannabis will be part of its spring release. I appreciate that those of you who pre-ordered it have been waiting patiently. As an expression of gratitude, I am using this issue of Drug Policy Alternatives to leak a sample of the book’s content. A call for a government inquest is not expected.
The first part of Buzz Kill provides indispensable context for understanding cannabis legalization by exploring other drug industries (alcohol, tobacco, pharmaceutical) and the use of their products in society. There is also a brief history of cannabis law reform beginning with prohibition. The more contemporary part of the book begins with some amazing accounts of recreational legalization at sub-national jurisdictions in the United States – specifically with the first one – the State of Colorado in 2012. It then moves onto legalization for therapeutic (medical) and recreational use in Canada. Later chapters cover developments in Uruguay, European nations, and others. It also takes a brief look at the implications of cannabis legalization for policy reform for other drugs – psychedelics, legacy illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine, and the many new psychoactive substances, often referred to as designer drugs.
But the main event of Buzz Kill is the story of legalization of cannabis for recreational use in Canada. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau once said, “Legalization is not an event, it’s a process…and that process will continue.” Mr. Trudeau was correct. Several years in, legalization for recreational use continues to evolve. Much of it was predictable. But there have also been a few surprising variants. As the book was entering the production phase, new, exciting events continued to happen. It was painful to have to exclude them. By the time readers open the book, significant events will have occurred that are not included. But the book will help readers evaluate both the implications and importance of those events.
Buzz Kill is not about the cannabis plant or the drug molecules within the plant. There is only a little about the people who use cannabis, or its effects, including the harms and benefits. It is not substantially about the legalization of cannabis for therapeutic use other than when it has some direct relevance to legalization for recreational use.
The book is primarily about what happens when a drug is legalized and the trade is handed over mainly to revenue-driven, private sector corporations. That theme is also informed by the conduct of our longer-established legal drug industries – alcohol, tobacco, pharmaceutical. The book also describes alternative approaches to cannabis law reform that were recommended to the Canadian government by both domestic and foreign health policy organizations. And how and why the government discounted the value of that advice – to the detriment of cannabis investors, employees, retailers, customers, and perhaps Canadians in general.
Finally, the book offers cannabis legalization as a compelling example of how Canada’s drug policy, in general, continues to be a domestically tragic and internationally embarrassing failure.
How Does the Book Begin?
Chapter 1 is called “Playing with Our Body Chemistry: Drugs and Society”. It is about the multi-faceted role of drugs in our society. Most of it is about drugs other than cannabis and little of the content refers to cannabis legalization. That is also the case for Chapter 2: “Persuasion and Influence.” It is about how legalization of alcohol and tobacco did more than allow us to use those drugs. It also seductively encouraged us to use them. Many of us have seen alcohol and tobacco advertising and other forms of promotion since we were young children. And the research tells us that advertising works.
The first two chapters provide the foundation for understanding cannabis legalization as the focus of the subsequent chapters. Until then, to keep readers connected to the main topic, I end many sections of the first two chapters with a paragraph prefaced with “Implications for Cannabis Legalization.” The questions and comments in the paragraph will prompt readers to think about the implications of the preceding content for cannabis legalization. Later chapters will dig into those issues.
I think of the first two chapters as the warm, shallow end of the book that invites the reader to wade in. They will provide an overview and introduction to many concepts. I save much of the detail for what I consider to be the deep end of the book that comes later. The foundational concepts covered in the first two chapters will provide some supportive buoyancy for when the reader ventures into the deeper, and more turbulent, waters of the subsequent chapters.
I am not typically one to drown readers or listeners with what is sometimes derisively referred to as a data tsunami or data dump. But I will make some provocative statements in the first chapter, and I believe that readers are entitled to some substantiation. So, prepare for the tsunami. To make the data less overwhelming, I spread it around throughout the sections of the chapter. It’s been said that data can be like manure. In a big pile, it just stinks. But when judiciously spread around, it helps good things grow.
I use the data to substantiate two main points. The first is that drugs pose a major health and social problem in Canada. It was a major problem decades before the current drug overdose crisis caught everyone’s attention. Drug problems also contribute significant costs to our economy.
The second point is one that is surprising for most people who do not work in drug policy (and even for a few who do). It is our legal drugs that account for most of the drug-related harm and economic costs in Canada. The contribution of illegal drugs, by comparison, is small; by some measures, extremely small. This should make us wonder what the war on drugs (the illegal ones) was all about.
Both points apply equally well to most nations worldwide.
When readers have finished the first chapter, they may see drugs and their role in society from a novel, more nuanced and hopefully more fascinating perspective. They will possess a fuller understanding than almost all the Canadian legislators who voted yay or nay (mostly yay) on cannabis legalization. This is also true for the legislators who are now considering the legalization of some other currently illegal drugs and the decriminalization of several more. Readers will be able to apply this understanding to the potential benefits and perils of drug law reform, not only in Canada, but also across the globe. The next decade will be an interesting and unprecedented one for world-wide drug policy reform. I believe that Buzz Kill will provide some indispensable guidance. My main concern is whether governments will listen. Canada’s has not.
Hamilton Ontario Canada
March 21 2023