Pubdate: Wed, 09 Oct 2002
Source: Clinton News-Record (CN ON)
Copyright: 2002 Clinton News-Record
Author: Senator Pierre-Claude Nolin
Note: (Senator Pierre-Claude Nolin chaired the Senate's Special Committee 
on Illegal Drugs. Its report, Cannabis: Our Position for a Canadian public 
Policy, can be found at


Dear Editor:

The response to the report of the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs 
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, read letters to the editors, editorials and columnists, it 
has become clear that some of what the Committee said in our report either 
was not heard or has been misunderstood.

First, we do not 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 
are realistic enough to know that we will not likely see it in our lifetime.

The premise of our report is that 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. And we found 
that cannabis falls into that category. It is 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 
findings that the human brain is developed enough by then not to be 
physically harmed. In other words, we recommend that the authorities not 
legalize cannabis for use below the age of 16. Appropriate authorities may 
well have good reason to determine that another age above 16 would be best. 
That is why we want the key federal and provincial players to initiate 
meeting with other health and community stakeholders to determine 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 even said he would prefer his children consume alcohol 
rather than smoke cannabis. Wrong message! Again, this report is not 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 that education, treatment and 
prevention are the ways to deal with any problems 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 completely 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 coordination, and recommending that the legal blood alcohol level 
be reduced to .04 from .08 when in the presence of cannabis.

Finally, there is 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 would not be purchasing the product from someone who is also 
selling crack cocaine or heroine. 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 is quite clear that they are more than willing to 
debate the issue. I hope our report continues to provide the 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

(Senator Pierre-Claude Nolin chaired the Senate's Special Committee on 
Illegal Drugs. Its report, Cannabis: Our Position for a Canadian public 
Policy, can be found at
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