Pubdate: Wed, 07 Jun 2017
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Toronto Star
Author: Tim Harper
Page: A7


It's long been apparent that the Liberal legalization of marijuana in
this country is not going to provide the mellow buzz the government
had sought.

We're more than a year out from promised legislation, but there's
smoke on the horizon.

The Canadian Medical Association has condemned the legal age of 18
being set by the federal Liberals, citing data that shows early
marijuana use leads to everything from depression and anxiety to a
lifetime dependency rate of 17 per cent for those who start smoking as
teenagers. That's almost double the rate of those who begin use after
their brains mature at age 25.

Too much has been off-loaded on provinces who argue they will not have
time to properly initiate and regulate a supply system when the
federal law is in place, as promised, in about 13 months. They will be
responsible for distribution, regulations on smoking in public places,
compliance - and can set a different age limit higher than the federal
legal age.

Big-city mayors want a slice of the revenue to offset costs they will
incur, from police enforcement to processing business licensing

There is some polling evidence that Canadian support for legalization
is softening - especially over the age 18 limit - as the details of
the law become better known.

There is time for the government and the provinces to get this right,
but there are two problems that transcend regulation and

By refusing to decriminalize something it has promised to legalize in
a year, the government is being hypocritical by allowing Canadians to
be charged for simple pot possession. It must be prepared to announce
a blanket amnesty for anyone convicted of marijuana possession in this
country and be prepared to move with lightning speed once its bill
becomes law.

And it must work with the Donald Trump administration to ensure that
Canadians will not be turned back at the border for admitting to doing
something that is legal in this country. That's a tall order.

The government believes decriminalizing pot possession now or
announcing a plan for blanket pardons would allow existing laws to be
widely flouted. But they appear ready to move. Scott Bardsley, a
spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, says as the
legislation proceeds, "the government intends to consider options
about what can be done to make things fairer for Canadians who have
been previously convicted for minor possession offences."

Calls for amnesty are coming from all sides and within the Liberal
caucus, the loudest voice has been that of Nathaniel Erskine-Smith,
who represents the Toronto riding of Beaches-East York.

He was contacted by a constituent - an old high school classmate - who
was charged with possession in Espanola, Ont. He received a
conditional discharge, but even that can cause difficulties crossing
the border.

Erskine-Smith reminds that amnesty was part of the original party
resolution on legalizing marijuana and he believes his government is
prepared to do the right thing.

"Once we pass the legislation, it is important to undo the past
injustices of this incredibly outdated law and to suspend the criminal
records of any Canadian affected by a possession charge and a
record,'' he said. He also believes there should be no more charges
for simple possession.

Right now, Canadians are eligible for pardons after five years.
Erskine-Smith is hoping to see a ministerial directive waiving the
five-year waiting period for those recently convicted.

As recently as 2013, 59,000 Canadians were charged with simple
cannabis possession.

But even though Statistics Canada reports cannabis offences declined
for four consecutive years (a 15-percent drop from 2014 to 2015) there
were still nearly 49,000 possession charges in 2015.

According to the NDP, 15,000 people, including 7,000 under 25, have
been arrested for possession since Justin Trudeau announced his plans
to legalize.

Many of those charged are not just young, but marginalized and
racialized. The charges hamper their ability to work or travel to the

Legalization does not change American laws and this is not a
Washington administration that shows signs of looking the other way
out of respect for its neighbour's more liberalized laws.

It would appear to be a matter of simple logic. No one should have to
carry a criminal record or face travel restrictions for using
something our government wants to legalize.
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