Pubdate: Wed, 16 June 1999
Source: Toronto Star (Canada)
Copyright: 1999, The Toronto Star


Senator calls for conciliatory approach to combat trade on black market

OTTAWA (CP-Reuters) -- A Canadian senator who admits to having smoked pot
called yesterday for the decriminalization of soft drugs, saying a committee
should study the negative effects of Canada's war on drugs.

Conservative Senator Pierre-Claude Nolin told a news conference yesterday,
"The repressive approach leads nowhere."

"We have to examine it from another angle, the angle of public health."

Nolin is trying to drum up support, from Liberals as well as Tories, to form
a special Senate committee to review the country's drug laws.

"My personal opinion is to have in future a much more conciliatory approach
toward users of any drug," he said.

"When you prohibit the use of drugs you only perpetuate the black market."

Nolin admitted to "past tense" recreational use of marijuana but said he did
not smoke it any more.

He suggested decriminalizing possession of "non-harmful" drugs but cautioned
that more study was needed on which ones were non-harmful.

He also insisted his personal opinions were less important than creating a
forum to air public views.

And he criticized as "unfortunate" the approach of Ontario's Progressive
Conservative Premier Mike Harris.

Harris has advocated mandatory treatment for welfare recipients who take
drugs, and would deny them welfare if they refused tests.

Nolin envisions a committee that would spend two years gathering data and
holding hearings in Canada and overseas before reaching any conclusions.

Sharon Carstairs, the deputy Liberal leader in the Senate, expressed support
for the idea, as did Liberal colleague Colin Kenny.

Carstairs likened the exercise to the work of the LeDain commission which
studied non-medical drug use more than 25 years ago.

It recommended decriminalization of possession of marijuana, though the
government never acted on the proposal.

Kenny, who has crusaded against tobacco use, said he wanted a more realistic
approach to drug laws but would not say if that included decriminalization.

No decision will be made by the full Senate until the fall on whether to
form the committee sought by Nolin.

A 1996 proposal for a joint study by elected MPs and unelected senators was
scuttled by Liberals in the Commons. This time the idea is for the Upper
House to go it alone.

Appearing with Nolin was Eugene Oscapella, of the Canadian Foundation for
Drug Policy, who said, "more police, more guns, more prisons won't work." He
said the $1.8-billion annual illegal drug trade could be smashed with more
lenient policies.

Health Minister Allan Rock has given the go-ahead for the trial use of
marijuana as a medical painkiller but has avoided talk of legalization for
recreational use.

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