Pubdate: Sun, 20 May 2001
Source: Ottawa Sun (CN ON)
Copyright: 2001, Canoe Limited Partnership


A national debate over Canada's outdated drug laws is long overdue and for 
that reason, an all-party decision by Parliament to investigate the issue 
is welcome news.

It promises to be a spirited debate as advocates of decriminalization 
mobilize to convince Canadians that drugs like marijuana do not belong in a 
Criminal Code reserved for real criminals and real crimes.

Opponents of decriminalization will be just as adamant in arguing that any 
change to current drug laws would trigger even greater use, particularly by 
youth, with possibly incalculable consequences for society.

Decriminalizing so-called soft drugs like marijuana doesn't necessarily 
mean legalization. It might simply mean reducing penalties for simple 
marijuana possession to something less than a criminal conviction.

But the debate will, no doubt, explore the more radical option of 
full-blown legalization with supporters advocating that marijuana is less 
dangerous than tobacco or alcohol and should therefore be treated accordingly.

While we welcome the impending debate, that doesn't mean we necessarily 
advocate decriminalization or legalization. At least not unless -- or until 
- -- a thorough examination can come up with answers to a host of questions. 
Let's sketch out the framework for the impending debate:

Does the current prohibition against the production, sale or possession of 
marijuana serve any productive purpose? Does it result in less use by 
Canadians or does it simply drive its use underground? In other words, 
would decriminalization result in significantly greater use than already 

Do current laws serve the interests of society? Is there any justice in 
turning thousands of otherwise law-abiding Canadians into criminals over a 
relatively minor issue like smoking a bit of pot?

Police devote considerable resources to this mini-drug war. Could they be 
better deployed elsewhere?

Does prohibition work in reducing crime? Or does it create a ready-made 
market, enriching motorcycle gangs and others engaged in the elicit 
production and sale of a banned substance?

What new information exists regarding the health risks of soft drugs? Do 
they have side effects? Do they lead to experimentation and ultimately 
dependence on other drugs? If not, why should we ban them?

Does society have any business peering into the rec rooms of the country to 
catch people smoking a little pot?

Would a radical change in Canada's drug laws sit well with our neighbours 
to the south. Surely, the U.S. would have something to say about the risks 
of increased cross-border trafficking from a country where pot is legalized.

What safeguards exist to ensure drivers are not under the influence of drugs?

MPs have their work cut out for them. They should start by asking 
themselves a simple question: Ever smoked a joint?
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom