Pubdate: Sun, 17 Jun 2001
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2001 The Seattle Times Company
Author: Anthony Depalma, The New York Times
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - Canada)


OTTAWA - As the government puts the finishing touches on regulations
that will make Canada one of the first countries to license marijuana
growers, deepening public tolerance toward the drug is clearing the
path to legal reforms that could make Canada far more permissive of
marijuana than the U.S.

Health Canada officials say that by the end of July, marijuana growers
will be able to apply for special licenses to produce small amounts of
marijuana legally for people with terminal illnesses or chronic
diseases to ease their pain.

Over the past few years, more than 250 Canadians have received
government permission to smoke marijuana for medical purposes, and
many more will qualify when the new regulations take effect.

A recent survey showed 47 percent of Canadians agree marijuana should
be legal, a sharp increase over five years ago.

Health officials are under pressure to have the new regulations ready
to take effect by the end of July. An Ontario court of appeals last
year gave the government until July 31 to revamp regulations for the
medical use of marijuana or have the entire section of the controlled
substance act voided, making any use of marijuana legal.

Until recently, approaches toward the medical use of marijuana were
similar in both the United States and Canada. But last month the U.S.
Supreme Court upheld a federal law banning the distribution of
marijuana for medical purposes, overriding laws in several states.

The debate in Canada has moved to Parliament. A committee from all
five political parties is preparing to undertake a full study of
Canada's drug policy and consider a range of reforms, including the

Health Minister Allan Rock and Justice Minister Anne McLellan favor a
rethinking of drug laws but not any particular changes.

Former Prime Minister Joe Clark, a member of the current Parliament
and the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, recently called
for lessening penalties for using marijuana.

Leaders of two other minority parties, the New Democrats and the
separatist Bloc Quebecois, also support decriminalization.

The Canadian Police Association told a Senate committee on May 28 that
it opposed decriminalization in the belief that lessening the
punishment could lead to increased use of hard drugs. Prime Minister
Jean Chretien has also withheld support.

U.S. anti-drug activists such as Robert Maginnis of the Family
Research Council worry that Canadian decriminalization will make pot
more available in the U.S.

Maginnis knows a shift by Canada would boost the arguments of
advocates for easing U.S. drug laws. "We find our allies are piling up
on us and making it more difficult" to fight drug use, he said.

Canada already has a legal industry for hemp - cannabis cultivated
with very low amounts of the chemical that produces the high sought by
marijuana smokers. The U.S. federal government prohibits hemp production.

Some U.S. states allow hemp production and medical use of marijuana,
despite the federal bans, noted Bill Zimmerman, executive director of
the Campaign for New Drug Policies in California.

Arrest statistics highlight disparity in the nation's

Richard Garlick of the Canadian Center on Substance Abuse said about
25,000 people were arrested in Canada for simple possession of
marijuana in 1999.

The U.S. figure for that year under the "zero tolerance" policy of the
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration was 24 times higher, exceeding
600,000, says the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana
Laws in Washington. The U.S. population is about eight times that of
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