Pubdate: Tue, 15 Mar 2016
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2016 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Page: A7


Long before Canadians actually went to the polls last October, Justin 
Trudeau had been clear that his Liberal party would legalize 
marijuana. "I'm actually not in favour of decriminalizing cannabis. 
I'm in favour of legalizing it," he said during a public appearance 
in British Columbia in the summer of 2013. "Tax it, regulate," the 
leader of the then-third party said. "It's one of the only ways to 
keep it out of the hands of our kids because the current war on 
drugs, the current model is not working."

Just over two years later, of course, Trudeau would win the election. 
His government has now been in office for more than four months. Yet 
the model he said was not working in 2013 is still the model in place 
in Canada, and will be for some time. The Liberals have yet to commit 
to a timeline for legalization marijuana. They' have confirmed that 
they still intend to, but when this will happen is anyone's guess.

This isn't intended as a criticism of the government, as most 
Canadians would agree that marijuana is a low priority, especially 
compared of Canadians are being arrested each year (22,000 in 2014 
alone). Many are simply charged with possessing small amounts of 
cannabis. Even granting that the law remains the law, what benefit 
does society gain from pursing these infractions? What value does the 
Canadian public get for this expense? What better use could law 
enforcement agencies, the courts and our jails be put to?

The issue is complicated further by comments made this year by 
Liberal MP Bill Blair. Blair is the former Toronto police chief and 
is now the prime minister's point man on marijuana-related issues. 
Last month, Blair said that the Liberal government would consider 
amnesties for people convicted of minor marijuana-related crimes (the 
criminal record such convictions produce can prove devastating to 
one's career prospects, and complicate any plans for international 
travel). Amnesties for those convicted of minor marijuana-related 
offences are a fine idea, but consider the absurd message these 
overlapping promises and commitments have produced: the government is 
basically saying you can be arrested and convicted for something that 
will soon no longer be illegal, but don't worry, because you' ll be 
granted amnesty for it later.

The wheels of government move slowly. This government has had more 
important issues to grapple with. Progress on marijuana legalization 
will take time and, as already shown by the experience of Washington 
and Colorado, will likely take even more time than expected. Tackling 
all the various complexities of ending our decades-long prohibition 
of marijuana should not be rushed.

But in the meantime, something should be done about those cases still 
being brought into the court system. Since we don't know what the 
future law will be - will possession of quantities of marijuana 
beyond a certain limit still be banned, on grounds it's intended for 
trafficking? - it's impossible for police and Crown attorneys to 
simply stop pursing convictions for crimes that will soon be erased. 
They don't know where the line will be drawn. Any guidance the 
government can provide to law enforcement and Crown attorneys across 
the country, on the understanding that officers may decline to arrest 
and prosecutors may decline to prosecute on the basis of that 
information, would constitute an imperfect way of addressing the 
absurdities now being created by a Liberal promise that has not yet become law.
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