Pubdate: Thu, 05 Sep 2002
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Page: A19
Copyright: 2002, The Globe and Mail Company
Author: William Johnson


Canada is on the map. Yesterday's luminous but explosive report of the 
Senate committee on illegal drugs will be heard like a cannon shot across 
the world.

In a unanimous judgment, nine experienced senators told Canadians that 
cannabis (a.k.a. hemp, pot, hashish, marijuana) should be made legal in 
this country and that it should be readily purchasable by all Canadian 
residents over 16, who would also be authorized to cultivate it for their 
personal use. Commercial cultivation and distribution to the public would 
be authorized under licence, according to conditions set by federal, 
provincial and municipal governments.

Moreover, an amnesty should be declared for all who've been convicted of 
simple possession. Pending charges for possession would be dropped. Those 
in prison would be freed. The estimated 600,000 Canadians who now carry a 
criminal record for possession would have their slates wiped clean.

These recommendations, if enacted, would make Canada the only civilized 
country on Earth to rescind entirely the legal prohibition against 
marijuana. Other countries, including the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, 
Spain, Switzerland and Australia, have instituted regimes of tolerating 
what is still illegal, or reducing penalties to the level of minor 
infractions. But none has placed cannabis in a category similar to that of 

The senators concluded that a regime of "tolerance" would merely 
institutionalize hypocrisy. It wouldn't end control of production and 
distribution by criminal gangs; it wouldn't enforce standards of safety or 
limit the strength of the psychotropic ingredient. The senators recommend a 
maximum THC content of 13 per cent for recreational use, but no limit for 
therapeutic use.

Their report, in five volumes, is almost certainly the most comprehensive 
survey of available knowledge on cannabis, including history, law, 
epidemiology, pharmacology and international comparisons.

Two sets of statistics were particularly interesting. Research in Canada 
indicates that, in the previous year, 10 per cent of Canadians over 18 have 
tried cannabis. But, among those 12 to 17, the proportion was 40 per cent 
- -- four times as high, for an estimated one million youngsters. Marijuana 
is the drug primarily of teenies.

Second interesting figure: More than 25,000 charges for possession of 
cannabis are laid each year. Enforcing the prohibition costs Canada -- in 
policing, courts and prisons -- an estimated $1-billion. Couldn't that 
money be better spent, say, in complying with the Kyoto Protocol?

The report will challenge governments, enlighten open-minded politicians 
and the public, send some pious souls scuttling for holy water to sprinkle 
on Satan's own weed, and surely unhinge police crusaders for prohibition. 
What cautionary ghost stories will they now tell the youngsters when they 
go into the schools to scare them (ineffectually) from trying pot?

It was 32 years ago that another body, the Le Dain commission, did a 
thorough investigation and recommended: "No one should be liable to 
imprisonment for simple possession of a psychotropic drug for non-medical 
purposes." That wise counsel remained a dead letter because timorous 
politicians feared that their superstitious constituents would turn against 
them if they decriminalized pot.

Will we have the wisdom, at last, to exorcise our Canadian version of the 
Inquisition? The Senate, when it votes on this report, must put its full 
moral authority behind its recommendations. And let the House of Commons, 
in a free vote, lead the world toward a new age of enlightenment on drugs.
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