Pubdate: Wed, 23 May 2001
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2001 The Ottawa Citizen
Author: Elizabeth Thompson
Note: With files from Joanne Laucious


Tory Leader Denounces 'Burden Of Conviction': 'There Are Some Of My MPs Who 
Don't Share That Position'

QUEBEC -- Federal Conservative Party leader Joe Clark called on the federal 
government yesterday to decriminalize marijuana, saying it's not fair for a 
young person to face a lifelong criminal record for possession of the drug.

"Personally, I make a distinction between legalization and 
decriminalization," Mr. Clark told reporters. "What interests me is 
decriminalization because I don't want to have a young person carry forever 
the burden of a conviction for a criminal offence."

A criminal record can block a young person from pursuing some careers, he 
said. But Mr. Clark was careful to point out that his position is a 
personal one not shared by everyone in his party.

"That is my position. There are some of my MPs who don't share that 
position and we can discuss it during the meetings of the federal committee."

Mr. Clark joins the growing chorus of voices calling for the 
decriminalization of marijuana.

Last week, the House of Commons unanimously backed a motion to establish a 
special committee to study illegal drugs.

A survey completed late last year also showed that about half of Liberal 
and Alliance party supporters back legalization compared with about three 
in 10 Conservative supporters. The Bloc Quebecois and the NDP favour 
legalization of marijuana in their party platforms.

University of Lethbridge sociologist Reginald Bibby, who conducted the 
survey, said a growing number of Canadians view marijuana as less harmful 
than cigarettes and definitely less harmful than alcohol.

About 37 per cent of teens use it, twice the level reported by teens in the 
early 1980s and '90s, said Mr. Bibby.

Last week, The Canadian Medical Association Journal also urged 

"The decriminalization of marijuana possession for personal use does not 
mean making marijuana legal or letting it be sold in every schoolyard," 
said the journal. "It does mean possession of small amounts for personal 
use would become a civil offence, like a traffic violation, not a criminal 

The Citizen was recently lauded for its 16-part series "Losing the War on 
Drugs." Dan Gardner won the Edward M. Brecher Award from the U.S.-based 
Lindesmith Centre-Drug Policy Foundation for an investigation into the 
relationship between drugs and organized crime, overdose deaths, addiction, 
smuggling and civil liberties.
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