Pubdate: Thu, 12 Jul 2007
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2007 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Senator Larry Campbell
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Larry Campbell)


Increase In Pot Convictions Shocking, Wrongheaded

If politics is supposed to lead the nation in debate, we're being 
taken for quite a ride when it comes to pot and the law.

Discovering that, in 2006, Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa and Halifax 
experienced up to 50-per-cent increases in cannabis-related arrests, 
is like walking backwards into a wall.

I hold the former Liberal government responsible for not introducing 
their decriminalization bill earlier just as much as I blame the 
Conservatives for killing it when they came to office.

It was the Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs that in 2002 
determined that pot was not a gateway drug and "should be treated not 
as a criminal issue but as a social and public health issue." Many 
police officers turn a blind eye to criminal enforcement because 
resources are best used elsewhere. Courts are clogged because 
marijuana cases slow down prosecution for more serious crimes.

If the charges are likely to never involve jail time or be thrown out 
altogether, I cannot for the life of me understand why we can't make 
simple possession a fineable offence.

Critics of such a policy change often cite the opinion that it 
represents an attitude that's soft on drugs. What these voices fail 
to recognize is that the recreational pot user has little to do with 
the traffickers who barter for cocaine from the U.S.

I think that when it comes to the law, practicality has to be a 
guiding light in both design and enforcement. Accordingly, there is 
absolutely no reason that a 15-year-old high-school student 
experimenting with marijuana for the first time should face the 
prospect of a criminal record.

This isn't to say that we should be encouraging our kids to become 
users. On the contrary, anti-drug campaigns that provide access to 
information and education have been the driving force behind a 
38-per-cent decline in cannabis use among Grade 12 students in the 
U.S. between 1979 and 2006, and a 19-per-cent decrease in use by 
Ontario high school students between 2003 and 2005 was also noted.

Do the over 600,000 Canadians who currently have criminal records for 
cannabis possession really deserve such a label? This number 
represents teachers, lawyers, doctors and parents who make daily 
contributions to our society and yet are labelled as unsavoury when 
they cross the border. These "criminals" also live their lives with 
the frustration of knowing that violent offenders often escape 
prosecution entirely within our legal system.

I have yet to see the study or expert that can directly correlate 
marijuana use with other more serious offences like robberies, house 
breaks, assaults or mischief. Such assertions spread a wide net over 
the 9.8 million Canadians aged 15 and older who have broken the 
federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act at one time or another.

Once again, rather than being an advocate for the use of marijuana, I 
am simply a believer in the fact that personal choice and proper 
parenting should be the parameters for a substance that is clearly 
less harmful than alcohol, which is of course legal and easily accessible.

According to recent crime statistics, it is estimated that the 
federal and provincial governments spend between $300 million and 
$500 million a year enforcing the law against simple possession of 
cannabis. Now maybe Canadians have become used to hearing about such 
amounts of money, but I know that a lot of communities, particularly 
those where aboriginal peoples reside, could make much better use of 
such funds.

It's about time that we get over the stigma associated with many of 
the false assumptions that dominate this debate, and pragmatically 
move forward on eliminating pot prohibition.

As someone who has both walked the streets as a member of the RCMP's 
drug squad and examined legislation for passage into law as a 
Senator, I have a sharp understanding of what constitutes a criminal.

Those that use pot just don't fit the profile.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom