HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Canada a Leaky Sieve in Drug War
Pubdate: Mon, 04 Sep 2000
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2000 The Ottawa Citizen
Contact:  1101 Baxter Rd.,Ottawa, Ontario, K2C 3M4
Fax: 613-596-8522
Author: Jennifer Campbell
Bookmark: additional articles on Canada are available at


The U.S. claims that Canadian court decisions favouring medicinal marijuana 
undermine efforts to quell the continent-wide drug trade, writes Jennifer 

Canada is angering advocates of the United States government's anti-drug 
war with its more tolerant policies on the use of marijuana for medicinal 
purposes and its lighter handling of drug possession convictions.

While the Clinton administration is going full-steam with its 
zero-tolerance policy on drug use, Canadian courts have ruled in favour of 
those who use marijuana for medicinal purposes.

And although Health Canada keeps a tight grip on who is allowed to use the 
drug, the U.S. government sees these cases, as well as more lax court 
decisions on drug possession, as undermining the co-operation between the 
neighbouring countries in quelling the growing drug trade across the continent.

"While the RCMP has mounted effective policing against narcotics and other 
criminal organizations, the impact of these efforts have been undermined in 
numerous cases by court decisions," reads a March 2000 U.S. State 
Department report on drugs in Canada.

"Canadian courts have been reluctant to impose tough prison sentences, 
often opting for fines, reflecting a widespread view that drugs are a 
'victimless' crime, or simply a health issue, not a criminal or public 
safety concern."

British Columbia's top provincial judge was quick to respond to the report.

Justice Robert Metzger, chief judge of the B.C. provincial court, said the 
United States has more drug problems than any other country he was aware 
of, despite its tough laws, and that it had no business commenting on the 
Canadian approach.

"I want to say to them 'Don't talk to me about how to get rid of a drug 
problem,' " Judge Metzger told the Vancouver Sun. "'You hand out long 
sentences and your jails are full of people, but your problem isn't going 

On the pro side of the medicinal marijuana argument, American advocates are 
cheering Canadian judges, particularly those in the Ontario Court of 
Appeal, who recently cancelled the conviction of Torontonian Terry Parker, 
who cultivated and smoked the drug to control his epileptic seizures.

The Ontario judges rejected the Crown's position that allowing Mr. Parker 
access to marijuana would contravene international treaties that Canada has 
signed pledging to address the drug problem.

It was a losing argument, admits Dann Michols, assistant deputy minister 
for Health Canada.

Mr. Michols said his American counterparts have been following the Canadian 
situation "with some concern." But he stands by his government's response, 
although it's only now undertaking clinical trials to gather scientific 
proof that marijuana is a good medicine.

"I don't believe it's wise to ignore the idea of marijuana as a medicine," 
he said. "I don't think the American course is the right course, because 
it's not the course Canada took, and I have to believe ours was right."

Mr. Michols said Health Canada's next hurdle is to adapt legislation to fit 
the decision in the Parker case, which, using the Canadian Charter of 
Rights and Freedoms, struck down the existing law that makes marijuana 
possession a crime. The ruling has been suspended for a year to give 
Parliament time to change the legislation.

Using the Ontario decision as an example didn't work for California lawyers 
- -- they lost their case defending a group of doctors who prescribe 
marijuana for AIDS patients. The U.S. Supreme Court was acting on an 
emergency request from the Clinton administration and voted 7-1 to stop the 
operation of an Oakland cannabis club.

Questions remain, however, since California's ground-breaking law -- 
Proposition 215, which allows the use and distribution of marijuana for 
medicinal purposes -- is before a federal appeals court. Several other U.S. 
states have laws similar to California's.

Officials from the U.S. Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement 
Administration refused to comment on whether the Canadian situation poses a 

"We do not have a comment on that," said one Justice Department official, 
who refused to be named. "We wouldn't comment on a domestic Canadian case."

She did say department officials were keeping an eye on the situation, 
"like we would keep an eye on anything."

But those on the pro-marijuana side say the U.S. is obviously not impressed 
with Canada.

"I think it's quite clear that there have been some grumblings coming from 
the United States that we're not doing our bit in the war against drugs, 
that we've become a leaky sieve," said Eugene Oscapella, a founding member 
of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy.

Dan Abrahamson, director of legal affairs for the Lindesmith Center, a 
research institute that supports liberalized drug policy and funds legal 
cases around the world, including the Terrance Parker case, agreed.

"They're on a real rampage against the use of marijuana for medicinal 
purposes," he said. "They asked the Supreme Court to stay a decision by the 
federal court. That's how rabid they are about this. Attorneys for the 
government have been instructed to appeal as high as they can to make sure 
medical marijuana doesn't gain a foothold anywhere in the United States, in 
any way, shape or form.

"Whether they are irked about the decision in Canada, I don't know for 
sure. But all indications from behaviour in the past would be that they're 
not happy about it."
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