Pubdate: Sat, 19 May 2001
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2001, The Globe and Mail Company
Contact:  http://www.globeandmail.ca/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/168
Author: Mark MacKinnon
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/pot.htm (Cannabis)

MINISTER 'QUITE OPEN' TO MARIJUANA DEBATE

OTTAWA -- Justice Minister Anne McLellan said yesterday she is "quite open" 
to a debate on whether marijuana should be legalized, or at least 
decriminalized, in Canada.

Speaking one day after MPs in her own party and others said they wanted to 
begin such a discussion, Ms. McLellan said it is "absolutely" time for 
Ottawa to consider whether some illegal "soft" drugs should continue to be 
banned.

Her comments pushed the government closer than it has ever been to 
loosening the rules around possessing and using marijuana.

On Thursday, the House of Commons passed a unanimous motion to create a 
committee to examine the issue of non-medical drugs in Canada. Members of 
all five parties said they see the committee as a chance to raise the 
marijuana issue.

The decision moved the debate into the spotlight yesterday; both the 
chairman of the Canadian Alliance's antidrug caucus and advocates of 
legalizing marijuana promoted the idea.

"I think both my colleagues, the minister of health and I look forward to 
this discussion and what the committee hears from Canadians and any 
recommendations they may make," Ms. McLellan said in a brief interview. "We 
are quite open to that."

She noted that the Senate, led by Conservative Senator Pierre Claude Nolin, 
has been examining the issue for some time, and said she had "encouraged" 
him in his work.

However, Ms. McLellan also said it's clear Canadians are divided on the 
idea of becoming the second Western country after the Netherlands to 
decriminalize marijuana.

"I think it's something we need to talk to Canadians about because I think 
they're deeply conflicted."

Farah Mohamed, the minister's spokeswoman, said later the government feels 
it should take its time on this issue. The social implications need to be 
studied before any decision is made, she said.

"The issue of decriminalizing marijuana is a very complex one . . . even 
within the police there isn't clear agreement on this."

She said the government has no plans to change the law before hearing from 
the committee, which will have 18 months to examine the issue after it is 
constituted.

Yesterday, a multiparty consensus that the issue can no longer be avoided 
seemed to be developing.

Canadian Alliance caucus chairman Randy White, normally a staunch antidrug 
crusader, said even his party is willing to look at legalization or 
decriminalization.

"There are lots of people across this country who want to talk about it, 
and I'm certainly open to listening," he said.

Mr. White, however, said starting a marijuana debate was not his intention 
when he introduced the motion calling for the creation of the special 
committee on drugs. He said he hopes the bulk of the committee's time will 
be spent examining ways to cut into the criminal drug trade, in which 
marijuana plays a large role.

"There are over a thousand people a year dying in Canada from drug-related 
[causes]," he said. "That should be the committee's focus."

Marijuana advocates were already claiming victory yesterday. "The House 
committee is very encouraging," Marc Emery, president of the British 
Columbia's Marijuana Party, said. "The only reason we ran [in this week's 
B.C. election] was to get people to take notice of the issue."

Two years ago, Health Canada legalized the use and possession of marijuana 
for medicinal purposes after a court found the drug useful in easing the 
pain of terminally ill patients.
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MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager