Pubdate: Thu, 17 Mar 2016
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2016 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Tyson Lowrie
Page: A10


And sort out the details later

Of all of the promises the Liberals made in the lead-up to last year's
election, one would have thought that legalizing marijuana would be an
easy one to keep, as it would be pretty easy to do.

The basis for marijuana's illegality in Canada is its inclusion in
several schedules of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA).
If Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is serious about his election
promise, he should take the obvious first step and propose legislation
that would remove marijuana from the CDSA. Regardless of what
marijuana legalization scheme is dreamed up over the next couple of
years, this will need to happen. The sooner it does, the better.

Instead, the prime minister has appointed former Toronto police chief
Bill Blair to head a panel that will work with cabinet and consult
with the provinces to create a "strong regulatory framework." It has
all the potential for lethargy and muddled-thinking that the
government has been warning us that pot causes for so many years.

Throughout Canadian history, these sorts of big consultations usually
end in frustration. In 1969, prime minister Pierre Trudeau's
government created the five-person Commission of Inquiry Into The
Non-Medical Use Of Drugs, headed by future Supreme Court of Canada
Justice Gerald Le Dain. After four years, it recommended that simple
possession of marijuana be decriminalized and suggested broad shifts
in Canada's policies toward drug users. The result? Nothing happened.

Our current anti-drug legislation was another big federal project
designed to reshape Canada's attitudes toward drug enforcement, which
was started by prime minister Brian Mulroney and finally passed by the
Chretien government in 1997. It was also a conspicuous failure.
Another report by the Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs in
2003, which also took years to produce, likewise burned too dimly to
make any impact.

A few people have suggested that Canada will need to go through the
United Nations before changing its drug policies because it adheres to
international treaties requiring marijuana possession to remain a
criminal offence. This is silly. The same international treaties
Canada adheres to feature signatories such as Portugal, which
decriminalized all drugs, and the United States, where marijuana is
legal in several states. The only major obstacle at present to
legalizing marijuana is a lack of will to take a political risk.

Establishing a legal framework for marijuana is a good idea. But if
the past is any indication, this current approach will probably
involve too much huffing and puffing about Canadian drug laws, and not
enough meaningful action. Almost by default, a consultation process in
a federal system like Canada's takes years to complete. Case in point:
even the virtually unanimously supported idea that we should get rid
of Canada's absurd laws preventing inter-provincial wine sales has had
virtually no effect, four years after being introduced in the House of
Commons in 2012. There is nothing to suggest building a complex scheme
for purchasing marijuana will take any less time.

In the meantime, the simple legislative answer is to legalize it.
Critics might say that marijuana would be unregulated and untaxed in
the interim, and broadly available to minors. This sounds scary, until
you realize that this is the same situation we have now. Legalizing it
would only mean that we'd no longer be tossing people in jail for
something that will be made legal anyway, and will help clear up the
legal haze surrounding Canada's medical marijuana laws. It would also
create an impetus for provincial governments to quickly establish
their own regulatory schemes and regulations, such as age

Lastly, it's worth pointing out that marijuana's very illegality stems
from a simple 1923 act of Parliament, when it was added to the Opium
Act, a piece of racially motivated legislation aimed at Chinese
immigrants. Since then, decades of bad science, ineffective government
action and a lack of political courage have seen a persistent
unwillingness to undo that simple mistake. Trudeau should not risk
continuing decades of failure on this issue, and instead take a
decisive step to do away with the status quo.

(Tyson Lowrie is a freelance journalist and a law student at McGill 
University in Montreal.)
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt