Pubdate: Thu, 05 Sep 2002
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2002 Winnipeg Free Press
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


A Senate committee has come out with the strongest recommendation yet that 
the personal use of marijuana in Canada should be legalized.

The federal government should implement this recommendation. It should not, 
however, take it and run with it recklessly; it should rather take it and 
walk with it carefully.

The "whys" of legalization are clear enough and plain enough to justify it. 
The "hows" of doing it are far more complicated, but that complexity should 
not deter Ottawa from pursuing a goal that just simply makes sense.

The chairman of the committee, Senator Claude Nolin, went to the nub of the 
issue as it exists in the public mind: "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 

That evidence is not quite so clear as the senator would have us believe, 
but it does seem the physical effects of marijuana use are no worse than 
the effects of alcohol; they may be less worse than the effects of the use 
of tobacco. There seems no logical reason why the use of the one should 
make the user a criminal, while the use of other two makes the user a 
generous contributor to the general tax revenues of provincial and federal 

The Senate committee estimates that about 600,000 Canadians have criminal 
records because of their involvement with marijuana.

That number continues to grow each year even as every branch of the 
government dithers about how serious the use of the drug should be 
considered. Parliament ponders decriminalization; the police decide on a 
case by case basis whether a simple user should be arrested and charged or 
not; there is no consistency in the judgments in courtrooms across the 
country as to whether users should go jail, be given conditional sentences 
or absolute discharges.

Legalizing marijuana would relieve the police of a huge burden and free 
their resources to concentrate on crimes that more seriously concern 
Canadians. It would ease the workload of an overburdened judicial system.

It would free Canadian legislators from having to fret and fuss about 
defending a law that is largely indefensible in the purely Canadian context 
and give them more time to fret and fuss about the nation's business.

It would remove hundreds of millions of dollars from the coffers of the 
Canadian criminal world and transfer much of that money to governments that 
constantly cry poor when it comes to law enforcement and health care.

Why marijuana should be legalized is clear.

How it can be done, how it should best be done is not so clear.

There are the nuts and bolts of how it would be sold, licensed, regulated 
- -- but these are the kind of things that bureaucracy thrives on and so are 
hardly insurmountable hurdles.

There is the problem of Canada's relationship with the U.S., which has 
reacted angrily to proposals of simple decriminalization of marijuana and 
can be expected to greet legalization with a reaction bordering on hysteria.

All of these, however, are things that can be worked out and negotiated 
with good sense and good will. They cannot be resolved, however, until the 
federal government resolves, as the Senate committee suggests, that it is 
time -- past time -- to make the use of marijuana no longer a criminal 
offence in Canada.
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