Pubdate: Mon, 16 Dec 2002
Source: Sudbury Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2002 The Sudbury Star
Alert: Please Help Canadians Understand What We Really Believe
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


Times Have Changed, and So Must the Laws. Canada's Marijuana Laws
Don't Work Anymore

Editorial - It's easy to joke about politicians and pot heads, but the
parliamentary committee that recommended changes to Canada's drug laws
has offered advice that has to be taken seriously.

For starters, the parliamentarians are not the first to suggest laws
regarding simple possession should be eased. Last summer the Senate's
legal affairs committee said the same thing, and federal Justice
Minister Martin Cauchon agreed, although not emphatically.

The parliamentary committee, which released its report last week, has
suggested that possession of a small amount of marijuana no longer be
regarded as a criminal matter. Instead, it would be regarded as more
of a regulatory offence and result in a fine that could be paid
without a court appearance -- like a speeding ticket. The Senate
committee -- that body of sober second thought -- actually went
further and suggested smoking marijuana should be made legal.

Either change, however, would be consistent with a trend in many
democratic countries, including Great Britain and Holland, toward more
liberal treatment of marijuana users. The idea of removing marijuana
from criminal courts is hardly new.

Although the government is likely to take some time before deciding
exactly how to respond to the committee's recommendation, Cauchon's
general comments indicate he is sympathetic to a more liberal
approach, but is no hurry to be the one to initiate them.

Speaking after the Senate released its report, he suggested the
current marijuana laws are outdated, and "we must be able to evolve at
the pace of society."

Well, it's already too late for that. When the Senate Legal and
Constitutional Affairs committee recommended in 1996 to change the
law, it reported an estimated three million Canadians were using
marijuana and hashish. That, they said, was strong proof the punitive
approach had failed.

Research in the United States suggests that relaxed laws haven't had
much effect. The 11 states that issue tickets for possession show no
higher use than states in which it remains criminalized.

As for the contention that smoking pot will lead to hard drugs, the
Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police believe they could actually
do a better job on cracking down on more dangerous drugs and on
traffickers if they could free up resources now used to enforce
discredited marijuana laws.

The real debate in the months ahead should not be about whether to go
ahead and reform the laws, or even the principle of decriminalization,
but rather the details of these reforms. Marijuana remains a vice,
like drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes. It would be better
handled through public education and societal norms than police
crackdowns and giving people criminal records.

 From a philosophical perspective, the debate on marijuana is likely
to go on indefinitely, but from a pragmatic viewpoint, the Commons'
committee's approach is more likely to be turned into law than the
Senate recommendation. The federal government should decriminalize
marijuana as soon as possible.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake