Pubdate: Fri, 19 Jul 2002
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2002 Winnipeg Free Press


Federal Justice Minister Martin Cauchon's suggestion this week that Ottawa 
might move to decriminalize possession of marijuana drew a quick and 
negative response from the United States. That should not deter the 
minister from his intent if, in fact, meaningful decriminalization is his 

What Mr. Cauchon proposes is not entirely clear. What is needed is a change 
in the law that eliminates criminal convictions for the simple possession 
of the drug. Last year about 50,000 Canadians were charged with that crime. 
Few would go to jail for that in Canada today, but they would have criminal 
convictions that create serious hurdles to travel and employment options.

One of the main objectives in decriminalizing possession of the drug is to 
remove that penalty for an act that polls show about 50 per cent of 
Canadians have committed, including, by his own admission, Mr. Cauchon 
himself. Most Canadians, including a majority of law enforcement agencies, 
offer support for some much move, and previous studies of the issue have 
endorsed it. Mr. Cauchon is waiting for two more reports, from a Senate 
committee and a House committee, to flesh out the details of his public 
musings -- early reports indicate that both groups will offer a similar 
suggestion -- but unless a change in the law encompasses that reform it 
will be largely meaningless.

The second objective of rewriting the laws on marijuana would be to divert 
the billions of dollars it generates for the criminal gangs in Canada into 
the public purse. This can only be done by legalizing the drug and 
producing it and selling it as a controlled substance under government 
regulation, as is now done with alcohol and tobacco.

As much sense as this makes, there is less support for it from the public 
or the police. It would face the added obstacle of fierce opposition from 
the U.S., which is utterly opposed to any softening of the marijuana laws, 
even for simple possession. It would require Canada to abrogate 
international agreements to which it is now party. It is an idea whose time 
seems yet to come.

Decriminalization of simple possession, however, faces no such 
international legal obstacles nor much domestic opposition. The Americans 
oppose it but do not threaten reprisals. In any case, this government has 
not always cared much what Washington thinks about Canada's domestic 
policies and should now pursue Mr. Cauchon's thoughts to their logical 
conclusion. The time has come to decriminalize the personal possession of 
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