Pubdate: Wed, 30 Jun 2004
Source: Mayerthorpe Freelancer (CN AB)
Copyright: 2004 The Freelancer
Author: Emile-J. Therien
Referenced: Cannabis in Amsterdam and in San Francisco
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)
Bookmark: (Cannabis and Driving)


Mayerthorpe Freelancer -- Dear Minister:

As you are aware, some Canadians fear that decriminalizing possession
of small amounts of cannabis will lead to a rise in pot-smoking
drivers. Whether or not this will happen is an open question. The fact
is, we already have a serious problem and it must be addressed.

A study entitled The Limited Relevance of Drug Policy: Cannabis in
Amsterdam and in San Francisco appears in the May 2004 issue of the
American Journal of Public Health. Funded by the US National Institute on
Drug Abuse and the Dutch Ministry of Health, it found no evidence that
criminalization either decreases or increases use. The researchers found
strong similarities in patterns of marijuana use in Amsterdam and San
Francisco, despite vastly different national drug policies. They also found
that decriminalization appears to reduce the so-called "gateway effect."

The study casts grave doubt on the idea that criminalization is an
effective deterrent -- or a wise direction for public policy. Yet, in
Canada there is pressure to expand the use of the Criminal Code as a
preventive tool. The premise seems to be that criminal penalties will
act as a deterrent because they are severe. Some advocates may feel
retribution is important (i.e. that offenders must suffer as much as
their victims).

 From a safety standpoint, criminalization is an unwise direction for
public policy. The federal government's decisions not to criminalize
spanking or cell phone use by drivers recognize that there are more
appropriate ways to prevent potentially harmful actions.

Over and over (most recently in the above-cited study), research has
shown that people are less likely to offend when they perceive that
they will be caught. Most chronic offenders -- the ones who cause the
most harm-- do not think about consequences before they act.

This in no way diminishes the need to address the issue of drivers who
are impaired by pot or other substances. However, we suggest that
measures outside the Criminal Code may hold the best potential to
achieve reductions in deaths and injuries. For example, under Highway
Traffic Acts, administrative licence suspensions have proven very
effective with low-BAC drivers, in part because they impose swift and
certain consequences.


Emile-J. Therien

President, Canada Safety Council 
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