Pubdate: Wed, 02 Oct 2002
Source: Peterborough This Week (CN ON)
Copyright: 2002 Peterborough This Week
Author: Senator Pierre-Claude Nolin
Bookmark: (Canadian Senate Committee on 
Illegal Drugs)


To the editor:

The response to the report of the Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs 
(Cannabis: Our Position For A Canadian Public Policy can be found at has, in many ways, been just what we 
hoped for: informed discussion, debate and dialogue. Indeed, let's keep it up.

However, as I participate in radio and TV shows, and read letters to the 
editors, editorials and columns, it has become clear that some of what the 
committee said in its report was not heard or has been misunderstood.

First, we don't endorse recreational drug use of any kind. We would prefer 
to see a drug-free society just as we would love to see world peace but 
we're realistic enough to know we won't likely see that in our lifetime.

The premise of our report is in a free society such as ours, citizens 
should have the right to make their own informed decisions on their own 
behaviour as long as it does not inordinately harm others. We found that 
cannabis falls into that category. It's less harmful to individuals and to 
others than tobacco or alcohol, so let's treat it in a similar way. 
Certainly, we found no good reason for Canadians to have a criminal record 
for personal recreational use of marijuana.

There has also been a lot of controversy around our report regarding a 
legal limit of age 16. The committee recommended an age limit for legal 
consumption at 16 as an absolute minimum age based on the scientific 
finding that the human brain is developed enough by then not be physically 
harmed. In other words, we recommend the authorities not legalize cannabis 
for use below the age of 16. Appropriate authorities may well have good 
reason to determine another age above 16 would be best. That's why we want 
the key federal and provincial players to initiate meetings with other 
health and community stakeholders to determined an acceptable age, among 
many other issues.

A lot has been said about messages being sent. Before we send messages, we 
should have an intelligent debate about what the messages should be. One 
political leader said he would prefer his children consume alcohol rather 
than smoke cannabis. Wrong message!

Again, this report isn't about comparing the merits of cannabis to other 
substances but about whether otherwise law-abiding Canadians should be 
persecuted, prosecuted and penalized by the criminal justice system for 
consuming a substance proven to be relatively benign. We believe education, 
treatment and prevention are the ways to deal with any problems the use of 
tobacco, alcohol or cannabis may cause, not prohibition and 
criminalization. So, if you are working to keep your kids from taking 
drugs, there is much in our report to help you.

Just as disturbing have been the attacks dismissing our report from some of 
the organizations that represent the police community. Yet we considered 
their advice carefully. We simply don't agree with them. At the same time, 
our report addresses specific issues raised by the police such as calling 
for a national drug policy, national advisor and effective research 
co-ordination, and recommending the legal blood alcohol level be reduced to 
.04 from .08 when in the presence of cannabis.

Finally, there's the ridiculous notion that the conclusions of our report 
in some way promote or advance criminal activity or support terrorism. 
Currently, organized crime enjoys vast profits from the sale of illicit 
drugs. Legalization takes the production and distribution of cannabis 
products out of the hands of organized crime. Profits would go to 
shareholders, not terrorists or gang members.

Perhaps most important of all, buyers wouldn't be purchasing the product 
from someone who is also selling crack cocaine or heroin.

If there is any "gateway effect" that can be attributed to cannabis, it's 
the fact that buyers, especially young people, are exposed to these dealers 
who stand to gain far more from pushing much more highly addictive 
substances on their customers than they do from selling cannabis.

We think Canadians are quite capable of making a wise choice with respect 
to cannabis policy. It's quite clear they are more than willing to debate 
the issue. I hope our report continues to provide information and ideas to 
help Canada to a new policy of healing and dignity rather than the 
degradation and despair created by our current prohibitionist policy.

Senator Pierre-Claude Nolin, chairman, Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, 
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