Pubdate: Fri, 09 Jun 2017
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Toronto Star
Page: A14


Pot smokers are not known for getting things done in a hurry, but
legislators seeking to revamp our marijuana laws shouldn't follow their 

In fact the federal government should hurry up and decriminalize
possession of recreational marijuana immediately.

The Liberal government plans to legalize, regulate and restrict
cannabis by July 2018. The promise was part of the election platform
that propelled the party to a majority government.

The current laws are not working - and a strong majority of Canadians
support legalization. Too many people are ending up with minor
criminal records, leaving the court system clogged and futures
blighted. Young people are especially vulnerable.

Yet legalization is still at least more than a year away and could
easily take much longer. In the interim, possession of cannabis
remains illegal. So anyone possessing a joint for personal use can be
arrested, charged, possibly convicted and could face jail time and a
criminal record.

Given the government's sound logic for legalization, this doesn't make

If Ottawa is set on legalizing pot it cannot in good conscience
continue to charge people for possession.

This position is backed by Toronto's medical officer of health, Dr.
Eileen de Villa. In her recent report on how to minimize the harms and
use of marijuana, Villa estimates 59,000 charges and 22,000
convictions for simple possession will be laid by the time cannabis is
legalized. Young people will be disproportionally affected during this
time as Villa points out that pot use is highest among 20 to 25 year

The government and Canadians agree that such charges create an undue
burden on public coffers and on the lives of those charged with these
petty offences. Why wait to solve the problem?

Supporting the decriminalization of pot possession before it is
legalized should by no means be seen as an endorsement of the
marijuana dispensaries that recently spread across Toronto, many of
which were shut down by police. Selling large quantities of
recreational marijuana in an unregulated context will remain illegal
under the new system.

But wasting police resources arresting Canadians for a pastime that
soon will no longer be a crime is ridiculous. It clogs up the court
system and can ruin the futures for young people, affecting work and
travel opportunities. Sure those convicted can apply for a criminal
pardon after a certain period of time and one hopes that once the law
has changed the government will invoke an amnesty. But that all seems
like a complicated make-work project. We ought to save the bureaucracy
the time and effort and spare pot smokers the indignity of arrest for
a crime we have collectively agreed ought not to be a crime.

A better solution, for the individuals involved and society as a
whole, is to stop laying charges.

The federal government's decision to move forward and legalize
marijuana was made because controlling cannabis production,
distribution and consumption is seen as a way for the government to
wrestle control away from organized crime and protect vulnerable
youth. This is to the good.

In the meantime, the current laws are doing little to prevent young
people from using marijuana and too many Canadians are slapped with
criminal records for possessing small amounts of cannabis.

Taxpayers should not be made to continue to bear the cost and no more
lives should be derailed by our overly harsh pot laws.

It's time for legislators to take a deep breath and relax on this
issue - and let pot smokers do the same.
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MAP posted-by: Matt