Pubdate: Fri, 06 Sep 2002
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2002 The Toronto Star


There is a solid case to be made for the decriminalization of marijuana, 
handing out fines instead of jail sentences and criminal records for simple 
possession of small amounts. The move has long been supported by the 
national association of police chiefs and more recently by the Canadian 
Medical Association and even Justice Minister Martin Cauchon.

But a call this week by a Senate committee for the outright legalization of 
marijuana that would make the drug as easy to buy as cigarettes or alcohol 
is another matter.

The report repeats some of the solid arguments made for many years that our 
laws need reforming. Unfortunately, the two years of work done by the 
Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs is overshadowed by one very bad 
recommendation: To legalize the use of marijuana at age 16.

The image of a stoned 16-year-old in Grade 11  legally  must make every 
teacher and parent shudder.

The committee's own statistics make this recommendation all the more 
disturbing. Canada, the report says, would appear to have one of the 
highest rates of cannabis use among youths 12 to 17 in the world.

Approximately 1 million kids in this age group have used cannabis in the 
last 12 months, and, most startling, 225,000 would appear to use it daily, 
the senators conclude.

It's hard to imagine how legalizing marijuana would do anything but 
increase those numbers. Indeed, those figures should be a warning that we 
need to wage anti-drug education campaigns as vigorously as we have mounted 
anti-tobacco crusades.

Perhaps some 16-year-olds are mature enough to make good calls in life. But 
many are not. That is one of the reasons the age limit is 19 in this 
province for both alcohol and tobacco. Many provinces actually raised the 
legal age for booze and tobacco in recent years because they were worried 
about abuse by teens.

In making the recommendation to legalize marijuana, the committee's chair, 
Tory Senator Pierre Claude Nolin, says cannabis is "certainly less grave 
than alcohol and tobacco as far as health is concerned."

That may be. But marijuana is not harmless, no matter what its proponents 
may say. It can cause respiratory problems and impair concentration and 
learning, as the report concedes. By recommending that the drug be 
available to teenagers, the committee is sending out a mixed message.

It's too bad the age controversy is overshadowing the rest of the report. 
The senators make some valuable points that should be debated: Their 
explanations that they chose legalization over decriminalization because 
the latter would leave the production and sale of cannabis in the hands of 
organized crime, for instance.

It was 30 years ago that the Le Dain Commission first recommended the 
decriminalization of simple possession of marijuana. If Canadians are still 
deeply divided after all this time on that first step, it is safe to say 
they are not prepared to support outright legalization, which would make 
this country's drug laws even more liberal than in those in "liberalized" 
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MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens