Pubdate: Wed, 21 May 2003
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2003 Southam Inc.
Author: Ian Hunter
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Bush, George)
Bookmark: (Walters, John)


It seems odd that a country that has just seriously antagonized its 
neighbour and largest trading partner over the Iraq war, a country with the 
multifarious problems that Canada faces, in such a country the most 
prominent item on the legislative agenda should be a government proposal to 
legalize marijuana. But this is Canada in the twilight's last gleaming of a 
tired, policy-challenged Liberal government. A cynic might be forgiven for 
wondering if the only potheads blowing smoke are to be found off Parliament 

The Cannabis Reform Bill will be formally tabled in Parliament later this 
month. However some details have already leaked out; these indicate that 
the government will decriminalize possession of up to 15 grams (about 20 
joints), give the police discretion whether to charge for possession of 15 
to 30 grams, and leave possession of more than 30 grams (which would seem 
to imply an intention to traffic) in the Criminal Code.

Canadian border officials would have options: they could seize pot and 
either refuse or allow entry. If someone in possession of marijuana crosses 
from Canada into the United States, Canada Customs will notify U.S. 
authorities. What happens next is not spelled out in the proposed 
legislation because, happily, that vast territory that extends beyond 
Canada's borders exceeds even the writ of our Natural Governing Party. It 
seems safe to predict, however, that what will happen next will not be the 
"peace and love, man" Canadian approach.

Parts of the Canadian debate defy belief: for example, proponents who 
insist that decriminalizing will not increase marijuana use; or those who 
deny findings of comprehensive studies (e.g. by the Center on Addiction and 
Substance Abuse) confirming that marijuana users are more likely to 
graduate to harder drugs (heroin, cocaine etc.).

Typically, there appears to be greater concern here about police discretion 
in enforcement than there is about the desirability of decriminalizing; for 
example, Professor Allan Young of (where else?) York University's Osgoode 
Hall warns: "History tells us that the disadvantaged and minorities will 
disproportionately suffer under a regime of that nature."

How reassuring is the authentic voice of Canadian concern! Prof. Young is 
reminiscent (although he may hardly consider this a compliment) of the 
House of Commons Finance Committee, whose recent report tentatively 
endorsed bank mergers but not without collective hand-wringing about 
whether a merged bank " ... would pay sufficient attention to ensuring 
access for disabled Canadians."

South of the border, the Bush administration must increasingly wonder -- 
who lives up there? While the United States "war on drugs," as waged by 
successive Democratic and Republican administrations, has not been a 
notable success, there is little doubt that Americans consider drugs a 
harmful social vice that warrants criminal proscription. Finding effective 
means to combat marijuana is difficult, but that difficulty has not yet 
persuaded Americans to throw in the towel.

Canada has long been seen by Americans as, if not exactly a drug haven, at 
least as lax in enforcement; it must appear that we are now about to 
welcome potheads with the same alacrity and mushy sentiment that we admit 
illegal immigrants.

The Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Drug Policy, Rep. Mark Souder, 
recently said: "We're still finding it hard to believe that this could 
actually happen in Canada"; if it does happen, Mr. Souder promised tougher 
border security: " ... spot checking, more aggressive checking, possibly 
background checking."

John P. Walters, the czar of American drug enforcement -- his formal title 
is Director of the Office of National Drug Control -- also threatened 
retaliation when the prospect of Canada legalizing marijuana was first 
mooted last fall; he said this would lead to increased importation and 
trafficking in the United States. Mr. Walters promised not only tighter 
borders, but pointedly declined to rule out trade sanctions.

It was 40 years ago, in the flower power 1960s, that Gerald LeDain, another 
Osgoode Hall professor, originally proposed that Canada legalize pot. The 
justice minister of the era was Jean Chretien.

It has taken 40 years, the most protracted retirement in Canadian political 
history, and a last desperate search for a "legacy," to convince the 
Shawinigan Demosthenes to act. By now questions like: "Why?" "Is it wise?" 
and "To what end?" almost seem irrelevant.

- -

Ian Hunter is professor emeritus in the Faculty of Law at Western University.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jackl