Pubdate: Tue, 11 Mar 2014
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2014 Postmedia Network
Author: Rob Breakenridge
Page: A10


In a sharp contrast from the not-so-distant past, it's suddenly very
lonely for those politicians clinging to Canada's failed and
counterproductive marijuana status quo.

With the formerly hard-line federal Tories now seemingly embracing
almost-but-not-quite marijuana decriminalization, who is left to be
the champion of the prohibitionists? Where is the politician who will
pander to irrational intransigence of the drug war hawks?

Sadly, that politician can be found right here in Alberta. The
comments last week from federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay only
serve to illustrate just how regressive and out of touch - not to
mention alone - Premier Alison Redford is on this issue.

What the federal Tories are now proposing is giving police the option
of writing a ticket for marijuana possession, rather than the Criminal
Code charge of possession being the only option. MacKay compared it to
police ticketing someone for having open liquor in a public place.

Whether one calls this decriminalization or not, the fact remains that
the federal government is now suggesting that criminal sanction is not
appropriate for someone in possession of a small amount of marijuana.
To then draw a comparison to alcohol only reinforces the point.

For the most part, the only strong reaction to MacKay's musings was a
concern that it doesn't go far enough. It may well be that the end
result of this new policy would be a greater number of people being
punished for marijuana possession, which is not something really
worthy of punishment in the first place. However, insofar that this
softening of federal drug policy is being met with little or no
resistance, represents a sign of significant progress. But if we wish
to find that resistance, we need look no further than our own premier.

Late last summer, after the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police
passed a motion calling for such a policy, Redford was quick to
denounce the idea, and in doing so, employed the sort of over-the-top
rhetoric that would have made Emily Murphy proud.

"We actually believe marijuana is a gateway drug into harder drugs.
It's a serious drug. It leads to addiction and we don't believe it to
be harmless," she said at the time. But she wasn't done there.

"We think it's important that it still be considered to be a serious
enough criminal activity that there are consequences beyond ticketing
and fines, because we want to keep our communities safe. And we don't
think that resolution allows us to keep our communities safe."

It should be noted that the evidence is pretty clear that it is
prohibition itself - and not marijuana - which is creating unsafe
communities, and that the evidence is pretty clear that marijuana is
safer and less addictive than other readily available legal drugs.

But what Redford's remarks really convey is an approach devoid of
compassion and at odds with the direction of social progress. Whether
this is specifically within her jurisdiction should not distract us
from how harsh her position is.

It's certainly condescending to believe the law needs to "protect"
adults from themselves, but it is downright cruel to assert that said
punishment needs to entail a possible prison sentence and the
certainty of a criminal record that will haunt that individual for
years to come.

Given her other distractions last week, Redford's silence on MacKay's
proposals is not surprising. But if Ottawa proceeds, we deserve to
know how Alberta will respond. As policing is a provincial
responsibility, it is fair to ask how police here would be expected to
respond. Would "consequences beyond ticketing" remain the priority?

It may well be that responding to a hypothetical gave the premier a
chance to come across - in her eyes, anyway - as tough on crime. But
as the hypothetical becomes reality, the premier should come clean
about how much of an obstacle she plans on being.
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