Pubdate: Mon, 07 Jan 2013
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2013 Winnipeg Free Press
Page: A10


It's been two months since the states of Colorado and Washington 
legalized marijuana for personal use, joining dozens of countries 
that have decriminalized or legalized the drug without experiencing 
the collapse of their societies, an increase in mental illness or a 
rise in the laziness index.

These states have stopped making criminals out of pot smokers because 
they realized it was counter-productive; it fuelled drug profits for 
organized crime, tied up police resources and saddled millions of 
young people with criminal records.

And as Free Press reporter Bruce Owen discovered in a special story 
published Saturday, if Canada were to change its prudish policies and 
tax the drug, it could be worth $2 billion for Ottawa in new revenue 
and an extra $600 million for Manitoba every year.

That money could fill a lot of potholes and provide cash for a wide 
range of other challenges, including the health, education and 
social-service systems.

Smoking dope may not be the healthiest life choice, particularly if 
it is used to excess, but the fact is marijuana has been around 
Canada as long as grandpa, and it's not going away. The drug is 
really no more dangerous -- but probably less harmful -- than other 
undesirable habits, such as alcohol, cigarettes and chocolate doughnuts.

Booze was also banned at one point in the past, but the authorities 
re-legalized it after realizing -- as Colorado and Washington have 
realized today -- that it was counter-productive to try to stamp out 
a product that the otherwise law-abiding majority of people wanted.

People today want legal and safe access to marijuana. A recent survey 
by Toronto's Forum Research found 65 per cent of Canadians favour 
either the legalization and taxation of the drug, or decriminalizing 
it in small amounts. Other surveys have reached the same conclusion.

But despite all the evidence that suggests the country's marijuana 
laws are badly outdated, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is determined 
to not only maintain them, but to increase penalties for dealing in the drug.

The country under Mr. Harper has actually moved backwards on an issue 
that has been the subject of study for 40 years.

In 1972, for example, the Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical 
Use of Drugs, led by Gerald Le Dain, recommended repealing the law 
against the simple possession of cannabis and cultivation for 
personal use. A minority view on the committee recommended a policy 
of legal distribution of pot and that the provinces implement 
controls on possession and cultivation, similar to those governing 
the use of alcohol. It was a progressive report for the day, but, 
unfortunately, pretty much ignored.

Then, in 2002, separate committees of the Senate and House also 
recommended a more liberal approach.

The Senate committee said marijuana should be treated more like 
tobacco or alcohol than like harder drugs.

The House committee said while marijuana might be unhealthy, the 
current criminal penalties for possession and use of small amounts of 
cannabis are "disproportionately harsh." It recommended that the 
Canadian ministers of Justice and of Health develop a strategy to 
decriminalize the possession and cultivation of not more than 30 
grams of pot for personal use.

Those reports also had negligible impact on the Liberal government of 
the day, which only promised to ease the penalties for simple possession.

With a rising number of people opposing the current laws, it's 
difficult to understand the Harper government's continuing 
obstinance, which appears to be based on an outdated and irrational 
fear of "reefer madness."

It's long past time for the government to listen to the evidence and 
to the will of the general public, rather than to obsolete and 
discredited ideas that do not serve the public interest.
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