Pubdate: Sat, 23 Jun 2007
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2007 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Tom Oleson
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


'THE one great principle of the... law," wrote Charles Dickens in 
Bleak House, "is to make business for itself." That's a thought worth 
worrying if you are trying, as I am, to understand federal 
government's position on the medical and recreational use of marijuana.

Not that I have any particular personal interest in the issue -- 
those days are gone -- but it is something that profoundly affects 
the lives of a lot of people.

As is well known, marijuana, the killer weed, causes "reefer madness" 
in those who have any contact with it. Bureaucrats and politicians 
appear to be particularly prone to this malady and if they had any 
sense they would stay away from the weed, but they don't and so they 
don't. The reason seems obvious -- they are simply mad. It is pretty 
hard, in fact, to reasonably account for Canada's marijuana laws and 
the way they are enforced without this explanation of reefer madness.

It is legal in this country for people to use marijuana for medicinal 
purposes, but they have to get a licence from the government and a 
prescription from a doctor to do it. The last part is not really a 
problem, but the first part is like something of Kafka in the way it 
can play out.

Usually doctors, in consultation with their patients, decide what 
dosage of a medicine a patient needs, but when it comes to medical 
marijuana, a bureaucrat in Ottawa can make that decision. This week, 
a news story told of two patients -- one suffering from severe 
arthritis and degenerative disc disease; the other from multiple 
sclerosis -- whose doctors were contacted by Health Canada and told 
to reduce the amount of marijuana they prescribe to them.

The most charitable explanation of such behaviour is that Health 
Canada's clerks have been over-zealous in the testing of their own 
product. The more realistic one is that this is just one more 
outrageous interference in personal lives by a blunder-prone 
bureaucracy that has bungled the medical marijuana file from the beginning.

The marijuana the government grows is inferior in quality to the 
stuff available on the streets, inferior even to what the patients 
can grow themselves, and Ottawa charges users 1,500 per cent more 
than it pays it supplier for the pot it gives them. Your 
neighbourhood street can give you a better deal on both counts.

That, in fact, might be what the government wants. Certainly the 
medical marijuana program seems designed to drive Canada's chronic 
pain sufferers into the more welcoming arms of their local street 
dealers out of sheer desperation.

In fact, drumming up business for drug dealers and biker gangs 
appears to be the sole purpose of this country's criminal marijuana 
laws. That, and to make a misery of the lives of otherwise ordinary 
and law-abiding people.

I spent an afternoon at the law courts the other day, as I sometimes 
do. On that afternoon I went to Court Room 301, which is, apparently, 
on certain days dedicated to dealing with cases involving drugs, most 
commonly, at least on that afternoon, marijuana.

Talk about a bleak house. Sitting there was a bit like watching a 
play by Samuel Becket, with the same sorry scene being acted out over 
and over again. On the one side was a bored prosecutor, on the other 
a changing array of bored defence attorneys. In the centre was a 
judge, and in front of him appeared a parade of young men and women 
facing similar charges and suffering similar fates.

The simple possession of marijuana is still a criminal offence in 
Canada, although hardly anyone goes to jail for it anymore. Even so, 
judging by Court Romm 301, it makes a lot of business for the law.

The police, I suspect, don't really go looking for people with small 
amounts of marijuana anymore, but when they find it the course of 
their business, they don't have much choice but to lay the charges, 
wasting their time on paperwork and processing, time that they know 
they could be better spent pursuing real criminals, keeping the city 
safe from real threats.

The Crown wastes more time and money trying to give criminal records 
to young people -- some of them are hardly more than children -- and 
defence lawyers pick up their meagre legal aid fees, another public expense.

It's a dull, sad parade in Court Room 301. Those who are accused 
usually plead guilty unless their cases are remanded, as they often 
are, to play the scene again in a few weeks. The defence pleads for 
leniency. The prosecutor sternly agrees. The judge is diligent in 
making sure the villain in front of him understands the process and 
the consequences. Then it is all resolved, almost always with a 
conditional sentence or a discharge.

Then it starts all over again, with a new victim appearing. And they 
are victims, these kids, victims of an archaic law that hardly anyone 
believes is useful anymore but that politicians refuse to change. 
Like reverse images of old hippies, when it comes to the marijuana 
laws our lawmakers hang on to the old because they are afraid to grab 
on to the new.

At a time when the justice system is too overloaded to deal 
expeditiously with real criminals, they waste the time of the police 
and the courts and the Crown persecuting people whose offence is no 
more serious and probably less harmful than drinking a beer or 
smoking a cigarette. To go back to Dickens, the law in this case 
truly is "a ass -- a idiot."
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