Pubdate: Thu, 25 Feb 2016
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2016 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Ian Macleod
Page: A5


'The current approach is simply failing'

OTTAWA * There will be no halt to prosecutions for minor marijuana
offences, but the government will likely consider future amnesty for
hundreds of thousands of Canadians already saddled with criminal
records for simple possession, says the Liberal point man on pot.

The comments by former Toronto police chief and MP Bill Blair came
amid increasing calls for federal prosecutors to cease criminal cases
against people charged with simple pot possession and minor
trafficking, even though Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vows to
legalize weed during his party's current four-year mandate.

Blair, speaking to the Senate Liberal caucus Wednesday, delivered a
mixed message.

As many as 1.1 million Canadians have marijuana-related criminal
records dating back to 1965. In 2014 alone, 22,000 people were charged
with marijuana-related crimes, which Blair called "shocking."

"The current approach is simply failing in our public safety and our
public health goals," he said. "The vast majority of Canadians no
longer believe that marijuana should be subject to harsh criminal sanctions.

"One of the great injustices in this country," is the disparate and
disproportional police enforcement of marijuana laws and, "the impact
that it has on minority communities, aboriginal communities and those
in our most vulnerable neighbourhoods."

Yet Blair insisted government has a duty to maintain a hard line on
continuing federal prosecutions for minor offences until marijuana is
on the same legal footing as alcohol and tobacco.

"The laws that currently exist in this country are in force and in
effect and it's important that those laws continue to be obeyed,
upheld and enforced," he declared.

Blair, who serves as parliamentary secretary to Justice Minister Jody
Wilson-Raybould, was asked by Sen. Jim Munson about the government
granting amnesty to Canadians with prior simple possession

"Thousands walk around with these criminal records today and can't get
work," said Munson. "Is (there) a possibility that amnesty could be
granted during this four-year term?"

Blair responded, "I'm sure it's an issue that we will discuss in the
future." Pressed later by reporters, he wouldn't elaborate.

Blair offered no details either on when the government expects to
introduce a legalization bill in Parliament.

"We're going to move ahead with this with all due attention, but at
the same time, we're going to take the time to do it right," he told
the committee.

"This is a complex issue and, in order to get this right, the
government is undertaking a number of initial steps," including
gathering scientific and health evidence, "to make sure we make public
policy decisions informed by evidence and expertise."

Blair repeated government statements that a federal-provincial-territorial
task force will be announced "in the coming weeks," to consult experts
and others on a framework for the proposed legislation, which is
expected to contain strict provisions to regulate and tax the drug.

More than 325 organized crime groups operating Canada are thought to
derive their chief source of income from marijuana cultivation and
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