Netly News, http://netlynews.com
December 24, 1996

Reefer Madness

by Declan McCullagh, declan@well.com

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police brought Chris Clay an unwelcome Christmas gift this month when they seized $40,000 of merchandise from his store, imprisoned him for four days, confiscated his computers, and indicated they believed he was guilty of selling marijuana seeds over the Internet.

Clay owns Hemp Nation, a store in London, Ontario, that for nearly four years has stocked cannabis seeds, bongs, and hemp products. He also operates hempnation.com, a web site with online order forms. The Mounties apparently don't care for it much. "A number of police mentioned they had seen the web site... My lawyers say [the police] are going to try to show my computers have been used for sales over the Internet", he says.

The raids on his store, home, office, and warehouse came early on December 6. After searching his house and finding one gram of weed, police arrested Clay. One of his employees who was working that day also spent the weekend in jail after being charged with two counts of "trafficking a narcotic" -- that is, selling a dozen pot seeds to undercover cops. Both face up to 10 years in prison.

Clay believes the raid is designed to intimidate him into dropping his constitutional challenge to Canada's drug laws, which is based on a case stemming from an earlier bust. "The trial's not that far away now and I refused to plea-bargain", Clay says. "That's the only reason I can think of for them to come after me again."

His web site is largely funding his legal challenge. "I've been raising quite a bit of money with the web site", he says. "We've raised about C$7,000, at least half through the Internet." Much of that is from what he calls "Victory Bonds". He sells these certificates (printed on hemp paper, of course) for $20; they can be redeemed for a quarter-ounce of quality herb "once cannabis prohibition has ended."

Clay's prosecution shows how futile the war on drugs has become. Shrinking police budgets should not be squandered harassing peaceful businessmen. Sadly, when it comes to drugs, Canada seems to follow the United States. Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney 10 years ago echoed President Reagan when he said, "Drug abuse has become an epidemic that undermines our economic as well as our social fabric."

But marijuana is not more addictive than alcohol or tobacco, and adults who smoke it should not be treated any differently than beer drinkers or cigarette smokers. Even if pot were worse, the government must not dictate what you can or can't put in your body, any more than it can decide what you're allowed to read or think about.

Just as pornography provided bait for a Communications Decency Act that banned much more than Playboy or alt.binaries.pictures.erotica, so drugs are bait for a host of ill-begotten laws that promise good but bring much evil. Because the drug trade is the result of purchases made by millions of people who try to keep their transactions secret, the police must inevitably respond by penetrating the private lives of those millions. Because anyone may be a user, everyone becomes a suspect.

Not to mention that any drug ban just plain can't work. Instead, it shifts money to a black market economy that can never be stamped out. If Singapore and Malaysia can't get rid of illegal drugs even with their "death to drug traffickers" laws, how can the U.S. or Canada?

Yet there may be some hope for Clay after all. If his challenge to Canadian law is successful, U.S. stoners may start driving up to Ontario in search of some Mary Jane. Clay envisions a thriving cross-border trade. "It might be something like Amsterdam with cafés you can go into. Or you can grow your own. Or it might be like alcohol, which is sold from government-run stores", he says. "It could bring a lot of tourism."

In the meantime, you can send $20 for a Victory Bond and a promise of a quarter-ounce of Clay's finest just in time for next year's holiday season to:

Hemp Nation
101-343 Richmond Street
London, Ontario
Canada N6A 3C2

Copyright © 1996 by Declan McCullagh All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.