- Not This Time: Canadians, Public Policy, and the Marijuana Question, 1961-1975
On Saturday, August 7th, 1971, a protest was held in the Gastown district of Vancouver. A group of "hippies" had staged a "smoke-in" to denounce the Vancouver Police Department's (VPD) crackdown on "soft" drugs, especially marijuana. Gastown, or "Grasstown" as it had become widely known, was considered by some politicians and legal authorities to be the "soft-drug capital" of Canada. In order to remove this blight from the city's image, the VPD launched "operation dustpan" in July of 1971. The primary focus of operation dustpan was Gastown and the young people who frequented the area's cafes, restaurants, and shops. Eventually members of Vancouver's counter-culture movement, notably the Youth International Party—the "Yippies"—had had enough. In an intentional display of civil disobedience against Canada's drugs laws and operation dustpan, the Yippies organized the Grasstown Smoke-In and Street Jamboree.
At first the jamboree was a peaceful gathering of roughly 1500 demonstrators. But it quickly descended into chaos when, in an effort to end the demonstration, the VPD, some on horseback and wielding batons, charged into the crowd. At this point, according to one account, "pandemonium broke loose." Once the dust had settled, the police had [End Page 180] arrested seventy-nine people. Yet ironically, none of those who had been arrested were charged with possession of marijuana. Nevertheless, the Gastown riot was an important chapter in the contentious debate over the legalization of marijuana in the 1961-1975 period. The public inquiry that was held in the wake of this riot noted that such acts of civil disobedience had become "fashionable" and that more violent confrontations could be expected "in the struggle for a different world [...] in the angry seventies."1
This "struggle for a different world" manifested itself in various guises. One was the social protests, similar to Gastown, that had occurred across North America in the 1960s and 1970s. Another equally significant manifestation of this struggle was waged by students' organizations, the media, interest groups, bureaucrats, and politicians over the "marijuana question" in this country. At stake, in the minds of some commentators, was the moral fiber and public safety of Canada. Marcel Martel, in what is an excellent complement to Catherine Carstairs' recently published Jailed for Possession, carefully examines the influence that these players had upon the development and implementation of public policy on the non-medical use of drugs in Canada.2 Indeed, Not This Time is ideal for scholars who want to understand how state policy and the law is formulated, as well as how the interests of some Canadians, in this case university students who favoured the legalization of "weed," can be thwarted by more powerful interests, including the police and the medical establishment. However, Martel's analysis does not contain a thorough examination of how Canadians felt about marijuana and its legal status. By not paying closer attention to the public's mood regarding drug use, the conclusions that Martel draws about the social debate that emerged over drugs in Canada are somewhat limited.
Not This Time recounts how the country's newspapers transformed the use of non-medical drugs—marijuana and LSD—into a social problem. Much of the hostility was reserved for those who used LSD, while most newspapers, in Martel's estimation, took a more progressive approach towards those who smoked marijuana. Essentially, the consensus seemed to be that the law did not serve as an effective deterrent for drug use and that leniency should be shown to most casual users of marijuana. What Not This Time does not adequately explore is the extent to which this sentiment was a product of the 1960s and 1970s counter-culture movement and the growing power of Canada's baby-boom generation. Martel only provides a glimpse into the counter-culture movement, its impact on the drug debate and the formation and enforcement of narcotic laws in this country.
Four key interest groups led the chorus of debate...