HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Drug War Vets Say Don't Police Marijuana
Pubdate: Sat, 13 Jun 1998
Source: Vancouver Sun (Canada)
Authors: Neil Boyd, John Conroy, and Gil Puder
Note: Neil Boyd is a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University;
John Conroy is a lawyer; he defended Randy Caine;  Gil Puder is a Vancouver
police officer and college instructor.


A cop, a lawyer, and an academic believe one letter from the
attorney-general directing police not to enforce the law of the land would
diminish the contribution of cannabis to criminal acts like gang

The moderate use of cannabis by healthy adults, even over many years, risks
neither the health of the user nor of society, scientific and medical
researchers are beginning to agree.

Remember these words, reader, when you next participate in, or are exposed
to, the highly charged, long overdue debate over Canada's illicit-drug
policies - and, equally important, their impact on individual Canadians and
our swamped justice and health-care systems.

Remember them especially if that debate degenerates into an exchange of
volleys between prohibitionist drug-warriors and laissez-faire libertarians
in which the principal casualty is socially responsible alternatives to
their extreme positions.

Implicitly, the Canadian courts have done much recently to publicize the
emerging medical and scientific consensus that cannabis is relatively

[1] Last August, the Ontario Court (general division) in R. v Clay found a
general agreement among the experts that moderate use of marijuana causes
no physical or psychological harm.

[2] Last December, the Ontario Court of Justice (provincial division) in R.
v Parker declared that persons possessing or cultivating cannabis for their
personal medically approved use were exempt from the Controlled Drugs and
Substances Act. The court stayed possession and cultivation charges against
an epileptic user.

[3] In April, the provincial court of British Columbia in R. v Caine
granted an absolute discharge to a recreational pot user. "The current
widespread use of marijuana does not appear to have had any significant
impact on the health-care system of this province and, more importantly, it
has not been perceived by our health-care officials as a significant
concern, either provincially or nationally,'' the judge wrote.

Marijuana is clearly the leading candidate for "delisting" from the
illicit-drug trade. We would like to propose a first, modest step forward:

The legislation that "criminalizes"  marijuana use is the Controlled Drugs
and Substances Act. It is federal legislation and it may be unrealistic to
expect Ottawa to change it. Not only can centrist governments be rather
clumsy when addressing community interests, but the increasing potential
for either an election or leadership contest makes our justice and health
ministers unlikely risk-takers.

Law enforcement falls under provincial jurisdiction, however, and thus
appears to be a more practical place to begin drug-law reform. Consider the
consequences of this possible policy directive:

Effective this date, the provincial Attorney-General directs all Chiefs of
Police and RCMP Commanding Officers to adhere to the following guidelines
when they, or members under their command, enforce the Controlled Drugs and
Substances Act, with respect to cannabis (marijuana):

S. 4(1) Possession shall not be enforced against a person who has achieved
the age of 19 years, except when that person is found to be in possession
in the following circumstances: 1. In a public school or on school grounds;
2. While consuming cannabis on public property. 3. While operating a motor
vehicle or vessel when impaired; 4. Of the quantity possessed exceeds 30

S. 5(1) Trafficking shall not be enforced against a person when all parties
to the transaction have reached the age of 19 years, the quantity of
cannabis exchanged is no more than 30 grams, and there is no profit arising
from the transaction.

Cultivation of no more than three cannabis plants shall be permitted upon
private property.

Any exception to these restrictions requires the specific approval of the
commanding officer of the jurisdiction.

Enforcement of any municipal anti-smoking bylaws will continue to be expected.

Suddenly, consenting adults might consume marijuana for recreational or
medicinal purposes, without fear of prosecution. Canadians are regularly
criminalized for simple possession: Nearly 20,000 people were prosecuted in
1996; the Caine prosecution involved half a gram. Although some of these
people already had records, a significant number were labeled criminals for
the first time, creating potential disabilities for employment and travel.

Under our proposal: q People could cultivate plants for personal use,
thereby, avoiding the criminal black market. q Parents concerned about
having pot at home could obtain a small amount, without fear of arrest.

Doctors and nurses seeking marijuana for their patients would no longer
have to send them to drug dealers offering a potentially contaminated

Under our proposal:

* Enforcement priorities such as drug-free schools and trafficking to young
people could be continued or enhanced.

* Large-scale cultivation operations would probably continue, primarily for
export, but would be fewer in number and thus more vulnerable to police
intervention. Recreational users would no longer be contributing hundreds
of millions of dollars to the criminal-gangs operators.

* With credibility restored to law enforcement, the courts would be more
likely to view those charges brought forward with more seriousness.

There are international and Canadian precedents for the use of a provincial
directive like the one proposed here.

A two-year study of decriminalization in the state of South Australia
reported no increase in marijuana use, compared to other Australian states
continuing criminal prohibition. Holland maintains criminal sanctions for
simple possession, yet a long-standing official non-enforcement policy has
resulted in some of the lowest marijuana use in the Western world. Belgium
recently announced that it will decriminalize.

Regional policing policies for federal law have a long history in Canada.
In December, B.C.'s attorney-general announced comprehensive diversion
guidelines for Criminal Code enforcement of property crime and minor

Some police officials may protest, but their views fall contrary to the
majority of citizens; in B.C., 63 per cent of the public favour
decriminalization. (The objection of police leaders - those who have
typically supported the status quo - would certainly raise the issue of
whether an agency truly believes in, or is merely paying lip service to
community-based policing.)

We must emphasize that we are not advocating marijuana use and recognize
that any substance, lawful or not, might be abused. Yet the irrational and
hypocritical treatment of cannabis is causing great harm to important
Canadian institutions. Change must be effected, and soon, for the law to
regain its rightful place of respect in society.

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