Pubdate: Thu, 05 Sep 2002
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2002 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Paul Samyn,  With files from Canadian Press
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


Government Should Allow Use at Age 16, Report Says

OTTAWA -- Marijuana should be legalized and sold at government-run
stores to Canadians as young as 16, a Senate committee recommended

The radical report -- it goes beyond decriminalization or even the
kind of tolerance shown in such cannabis-friendly jurisdictions as the
Netherlands -- also urges the federal government to provide amnesty to
those convicted of pot possession under both current and past laws.

The report was hailed by marijuana activists outside of the Winnipeg
Law Courts Building, but fiercely condemned by the Canadian Police
Association as "a back-to-school gift for drug pushers."

Sen. Pierre Claude Nolin, chairman of the special committee which
spent two years studying public policies on marijuana, acknowledged
the issue remains in the hands of the federal government and said
nothing is likely to happen quickly.

A House of Commons committee is expected to issue a report on illicit
drugs in November. Justice Minister Martin Cauchon, who recently
admitted smoking pot in his youth, said the government will study
those findings and won't unveil its position before early next year.

While all political parties support decriminalization, legalization is
a big step beyond that. The former would result in not prosecuting
people for possessing small amounts of cannabis for personal use; the
latter could see it sold at government outlets, even corner stores.

The report said the current system of prohibition simply doesn't work
and should be replaced by a regulated system, perhaps like that used
for alcohol, with cannabis available to anyone 16 or older.

"Scientific evidence overwhelmingly indicates that cannabis is
substantially less harmful than alcohol and should be treated not as a
criminal issue but as a social and public-health issue," said Nolin.

"Indeed, domestic and international experts and Canadians from every
walk of life told us loud and clear that we should not be imposing
criminal records on users or unduly prohibiting personal use of cannabis."

Even though Senate reports are routinely ignored by the Chretien
cabinet, Nolin's committee sent ripples through both the pro- and
anti-marijuana camps across the country.

In Winnipeg, Chris Buors, one of the province's leading pot crusaders,
hailed the report as he held a fund-raiser in front of the Law Courts
to help restock his pot-growing operation.

"Yahoo! I am very happy," said Buors, now facing trafficking and
cultivation charges related to his work with the Manitoba Compassion
Club, established to grow the drug for people in medical need. "It is
a big movement -- thank you very much to the Senate."

Winnipegger Andy Caisse, a multiple sclerosis sufferer who holds a
federal permit to grow and smoke pot for medicinal reasons, also
applauded the report. "It should be legalized," he said.

In Vancouver yesterday, Marc Emery, perhaps Canada's best-known pot
activist, was visibly ecstatic, admittedly stunned at the way the
stereotypically stodgy senators had suddenly become, well, dudes.

"It's a beacon of light from the Senate," said Emery, president of the
Marijuana party.

"It's the most far-reaching document of any western country or any
place in the world in regards to marijuana," he said. "It goes further
than Switzerland, further than Holland and is certainly light-years
ahead of the United States."

However, the Canadian Police Association vowed to fight what it called
an ill-timed and dangerous report.

"It is nothing more than a back-to-school gift for drug pushers," said
Doug Griffin, executive director of the police association.

Griffin said the senators are politicians pretending to be scientists
in saying marijuana poses few risks. "Drugs are not dangerous because
they are illegal; drugs are illegal because they are dangerous," he

The 600-page Senate report should be of more than passing interest to
the estimated two million Canadians who have used pot at least once in
the past 12 months. It should be of particular interest to the 20,000
Canadians arrested each year for possession of pot.

The report, which comes amid more liberal public opinion on pot and
even a federal medicinal marijuana program, says the way Ottawa has
treated cannabis has failed.

"In our view, it is clear that if the aim of public policy is to
diminish consumption and supply of drugs, specifically cannabis, all
signs indicate complete failure," the report says.

Despite the fact billions of dollars have been sunk into enforcement,
it says there has been little impact as there are now more consumers
and regular users.

Canadian Alliance MP Randy White, co-chairman of the Commons commitee
studying non-medical use of drugs, agreed with Cauchon's view that the
government should wait until his commitee reports.

White said he had several problems with the Senate committee's views,
including its recommendation that Canadians as young as 16 be able to
buy cannabis from government-run stores. "You can't even buy
cigarettes or alcohol in Canada until you are 18, but it would be OK
to light up a joint?" White said.

Cauchon wouldn't say whether he feels the time has come for
legalization, but he did suggest current marijuana laws are outdated.

"We must be able to evolve at the pace of society," he said in Quebec

Sen. Colin Kenny said legalizing pot would help reduce organized crime
in Canada. "The main accomplishment we will see here is a reduction in
criminality associated with the drug." 
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