Pubdate: Sat, 14 Dec 2002
Source: Telegram, The (CN NF)
Copyright: 2002 The Telegram


Perhaps it is a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand
is doing -- but the current federal government's plans dealing with the
decriminalization of marijuana have certainly descended from
curiousity to downright confusion.

Friday, the federal government found itself in the awkward postion of
having its Justice Department lawyers being asked by the Supreme Court
of Canada whether they really wanted to go ahead with a court case
involving marijuana use.

After all, federal Justice Minister Martin Cauchon had already
announced that he intended to follow the recommendations of a special
parliamentary committee, which recommended that the minister
decriminalize the possession of marijuana in amounts less than 30 grams.

The problem is, the minister's department is in the midst of a case
against three marijuana activists, a case in which the federal
government has submitted documents claiming that marijuana use is
connected to increased likelihood of cancer, automobile accidents,
psychiatric problems and drug addiction.

That case was scheduled to proceed on Friday morning, while the
justices of the Supreme Court were left scratching their heads -- why
proceed with an action, when the issue might quickly be moot?

The justices took the unusual action of having their registrar write
to all the lawyers involved, asking whether the case should be put
over until the federal government clearly elucidates the direction it
plans to take.

It all smacks of bad planning, or at least, bad timing.

And it also suggests that the federal government doesn't really have a
clear handle about where it wants to go, and what it wants to do when
it gets there.

The problem is that the government seems to be making both sides of
the case at the same time; the concerns raised in the Justice
Department's documents echo the very concerns that groups ranging from
doctors to addictions counsellors to the association that represents
the nation's police officers have made.

And you get into a quick conundrum: if the federal government believes
its representation to the Supreme Court is true -- as it should, given
that this is Canada's highest court of law -- then how can it also, in
good conscience, work towards decriminalizing a substance it maintains
is a scourge?

Perhaps the federal government should do what Newfoundland and
Labrador's premier, Roger Grimes, has done; back away from the issue
until it decides cohesively how it plans to move forward. After first
saying he supports the legalization of marijuana use, even to the
point of establishing a tax regime for the drug, Grimes said Thursday
that his statements about legalizing marijuana should be taken as
merely a personal opinion.

At least the federal government will have some time to think about its
next move: the House of Commons shut down for the next seven weeks on
Friday, giving the minister of justice and his lawyers a good long
time to clear the air.

Maybe then they will be able to come to a common position about
whether marijuana is a recreational drug -- the possession of which
deserves nothing more than a simple ticket -- or a health-threatening,
dangerous-driving, psychiatric-problem-causing chemical that should
still be punished all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The two positions do not look like easy ones to reconcile.
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