Pubdate: Wed, 04 Jun 2003
Source: Flamborough Post (CN ON)
Copyright: 2003, Flamborough Post
Author: Irene Gentle
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


Decriminalization Sends Wrong Message to Youths, Warns Police Chief

Give kids a chance.

That's something Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Aldershot MP John Bryden
feels a new bill aimed at decriminalizing the possession of marijuana
will do by not saddling recreational users with a criminal record.

The bill would punish those carrying 15 grams of pot or less with a
fine rather than a criminal charge. Youths would receive lesser
punishment than adults and enforcement efforts would be redirected at
marijuana growers and traffickers.

The bill has been controversial, with some critics fearing any
liberalizing of the law, while others worry it could lead to further
clogging at the border as the United States keeps up its national war
on drugs. But it suits Bryden fine.

"I can support what they're proposing," he said. "They're shifting the
penalty from those with simple possession to those who traffic or
grow. It doubles the sentence and penalty for the people who grow the
stuff. As you go up the scale, the penalties get really severe."

The proposed legislation is the result of a request from both the
Canadian Bar Association and the Canadian Medical Association. They
feel the issue is a health concern more than a legal one that is
causing a backlog in the courts.

"The argument is, the young people who get caught with it get a
criminal record and this has a profound control on their lives," said

With the U.S. administration's crackdown on crime, he felt a young
person caught stateside with a record may be in for severe treatment.

"They'd be considered criminals in the U.S.," he said. "Americans have
become more keen on prosecuting crime than they were under the democrats."

But because the bill would aggressively pursue growers - with
sentences getting stiffer the more plants are found - Bryden feels the
U.S. can't accuse Canada of being soft on drugs.

"No one can fairly say this is not a bill designed to block
production," said Bryden. "But the law should be designed to go after
the criminals, not bring the heavy hand down on young people."

He feels society has changed and that pot use is now considered as
routine as legal vices such as gambling and drinking alcohol.

"If people would do it regardless, if the laws are too strict, you
create a lot of criminals," he said. "The law can only go as far as
the public agrees to it."

But not everyone is in favour of the proposed changes. Hamilton's
Police Chief Ken Robertson has come out strongly against the bill.

Robertson said the feedback he has been hearing from his youth
advisory group and other young people in the community is that the
bill is bad news for teens looking to do the right thing in life.

"I'm disappointed. This legislation is sending the wrong message to
young people," he said. "They're expecting adults to set an example."

Robertson feels marijuana is already a problem at area schools and one
that will only increase if this legislation passes.

Kids won't benefit from the changes, he feel. But pot smokers,
traffickers and growers will.

And a $100 fine for those carrying 15 grams of pot will tie the hands
of front-line officers, he feels.

According to Robertson, 15 grams of pot can make about 25 joints that
could be sold for $10 each. That's $250 for the youth.

"We wouldn't be able to do much about it," said Robertson, who said
there were about 100 grow houses in the Hamilton area last year, and
that has about doubled this year.

And though enforcement will target growers, there isn't enough cash to
tackle the problem or to fund education and awareness programs for

Of the $250 million pledged over 5 years, Ontario would get about $5
million, predicted Robertson.

"That wouldn't be enough for Toronto alone," he said. "It's

Catherine McPherson-Doe, executive director of Alternatives for Youth,
which helps young people kick substance addictions, feels that the
bill, if passed, will increase usage among young people.

But 2001 research has shown that pot use is already on the rise,
partly because babyboom parents don't find it much of a problem.

"They have a greater tolerance or acceptance of substance use," she
said. "The sanction is weakening."

And though she sees the bill as no reason for "mass hysteria or
concern," substance use in the young can hamper the development of
other, healthier coping mechanisms, said Macpherson-Doe.

"It can be a quick and easy way of coping with the challenges of
growing up," she said. "You don't develop other strategies."

To help, parents and other adults should ensure that there is
plentiful good information on the social and health effects of
substance use available. Continuing to talk to kids is also vital. And
ensuring kids feel well connected with activities, family, friends and
teachers will also minimize their risk of substance use.

"Know what they're doing," she advised. "Keep the lines of
communication open. Parents need to be clear with kids on where they
stand and what they want from them." 
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