Pubdate: Tue, 17 Jan 2012
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2012 Canwest Publishing Inc.


The single concrete policy proposal to emerge from the weekend Liberal 
convention - a resolution urging the legalization of marijuana - is 
being touted as "controversial." But it shouldn't be. For the last 
quarter century, a majority of Canadians have supported the 
decriminalization of simple marijuana possession. Since then, 
thousands of AIDS patients and other sick Canadians have procured 
government certificates that permit them to use marijuana for pain and 
nausea relief. Over the last decade, the Canadian Medical Association, 
the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, the Association of Police 
Chiefs and the Canadian Bar Association have all come out in favour of 
decriminalization. A committee of the Canadian Senate even went one 
step further, proposing outright marijuana legalization.

Indeed, as Lorne Gunter writes on these pages, the push for marijuana 
reform goes back even further - to the age of disco: The subject was a 
hot topic at the Liberal convention of 1978. Yet in the 33 years 
since, nothing much has happened on this file.

If so many smart, well-informed Canadians have signed on to marijuana 
reform, why do thousands of Canadians still go to jail every year for 
possessing a substance that is less dangerous than tobacco or alcohol, 
and which is used regularly by one in six Canadians? (Bob Rae himself 
has confessed to having used marijuana in the past - a fact that 
shocked absolutely no one; nor should it.)

The Conservative government's opposition to marijuana reform is easy 
to explain: From its early days, Stephen Harper's party has dedicated 
itself to a doctrinaire "tough on crime" agenda. In 2006, when asked 
whether the Tories would do anything to advance the issue of pot 
decriminalization, thenjustice minister Vic Toews responded: "It is a 
very short answer, and the answer is no."

That's a retrograde attitude. But at least the Tories are forthright 
about their position on the issue. By contrast, the Liberals 
repeatedly floated the idea of marijuana reform from 2003 to 2005, and 
even intro-duced legislation to decriminalize possession of small 
amounts of pot, only to let the issue die. While Paul Martin indicated 
that he supported the cause of reform in principle, he reportedly was 
concerned about the reaction from the United States, where the federal 
government remains wedded to the war-on-drugs model that Mr. Rae 
(rightly) denounced as a failure this past weekend. In her capacity as 
health minister, and then public safety minister under Mr. Martin, 
Anne McLellan was particularly hawkish in her opposition to marijuana 
reform - for similar U.S.-centric reasons.

The National Post editorial board has repeatedly expressed support for 
the legalization of marijuana. But we realize that it likely will 
never happen while Mr. Harper remains Canada's prime minister. Even if 
the Liberals or NDP win power, the next prime minister will still have 
to wrestle with the same concerns that blocked decriminalization under 
the Liberals a decade ago.

And it must be conceded that those concerns weren't trivial: If 
marijuana is decriminalized in Canada, our country will effectively 
become America's northern ganja grow-op. No matter how much we may 
crow about Canadian sovereignty, it is a fact that the United States 
has the power of life and death over cross-border trade. No one wants 
to wait four hours at U.S. customs because border agents are checking 
every car trunk and suitcase for legal Canadian weed.

The best way to pursue drug reform is in concert with the United 
States and Mexico (where the drug war claims roughly 10,000 lives per 
year). While there is currently little appetite for drug reform in 
Washington, the same is not true for state governments: Since 1996, 16 
U.S. states have enacted laws to legalize medical marijuana - 
including six that border Canada. Drug reform will not happen 
overnight in the United States. But a Liberal government would at 
least have partners for dialogue.
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.