HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html MPs Seek Debate On Drug Legalization
Pubdate: Tue, 19 Sep 2000
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: The Vancouver Sun 2000
Contact:  200 Granville Street, Ste.#1, Vancouver BC V6C 3N3
Fax: (604) 605-2323
Author: Tim Naumetz


The Liberal House leader and the prime minister say it's not for the 
Commons to decide.

OTTAWA -- Some MPs have returned from Parliament's summer recess prepared 
to debate what only a few years ago might have been considered unthinkable 
by mainstream politicians -- the legalization of street drugs.

The Canadian Alliance's Stockwell Day said he thinks the debate should be 
followed by a free vote for all MPs.

"I think that debate on legalization of drugs should take place and it 
should take place in the House of Commons, and it should go ahead with a 
free vote," Day said in response to questions at a news conference in which 
he addressed a range of topics.

"The Canadian Alliance position is clearly to allow for that legalization 
related to the alleviation of pain and for medicinal purposes," added Day.

However, government House leader Don Boudria was unwilling even to discuss 
the idea of a debate.

Asked if he thought the Commons should take it up, Boudria replied "not 
particularly," and quickly walked off.

NDP leader Alexa McDonough said: "One thing is very clear, the 
intensification of the effort to deal with organized crime and shut down 
illegal drugs has not been a success in the U.S. and it makes no sense for 
us to just simply go down the same road.

"We're willing to debate whatever will get us through a solution here and 
that means needing to have sound initiatives put forward by the government, 
and it means having the evidence to guide us in decisions we make.''

Southam newspapers across the country have recently published a series of 
Ottawa Citizen stories exploring the cost and effect of the war on drugs 
led primarily by the United States.

Organized crime and the related question of illegal drugs, which the RCMP 
says are the main source of revenue for most crime groups, were central to 
much of the activity on Parliament Hill Monday when the Commons resumed 
after its summer recess.

The Bloc Quebecois, in response to the gangland-style shooting of a 
Montreal crime reporter last week, successfully steered a motion calling 
for a new law against criminal gangs on to the Commons floor for a special 

In the Senate, Conservative and Liberal members of a special committee 
struck to study drug legalization held a planning meeting for hearings that 
are to begin Monday.

Tory Senator Pierre-Claude Nolin, who convinced the Senate to launch the 
inquiry, is on record as saying the law that makes marijuana possession a 
criminal offence should be withdrawn.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien responded to the BQ pressure by saying it's up 
to the provinces to work harder to enforce a law that is already in place.

Chretien, under fire in question period, said Parliament already passed 
anti-gang legislation in 1997 and now it's up to the provinces to make it 
work, particularly with increased funding given to the RCMP.

"If there's a problem of this nature, it's not only a federal 
responsibility because the administration of justice in the provinces is 
the responsibility of the provincial government, who must take the 
necessary measures for the police to be able to use their resources," he said.

MPs who were interviewed about the question of drug-legalization avoided 
taking a stand, but said the topic should be aired. "Anytime that we have 
an opportunity to discuss something as topical and as serious as drug use, 
particularly the perpetration of organized crime in dealing drugs, we 
should certainly do that on the floor of the House of Commons," said 
Conservative MP Peter MacKay, the party's justice critic and a former Crown 

Liberal MP Paul Szabo, who chaired a Commons committee that five years ago 
studied drug laws in Canada, flatly dismissed the idea, saying: "This is a 
non-starter, it's a non-starter for me."

Szabo said the committee he led in 1995 heard arguments in favour of drug 
legalization but "the evidence, not just anecdotal evidence from people and 
how they feel, but rather from health experts, from social experts, were in 
total consensus that this would be a terrible direction to go in and 
consider. The government agreed and I'm sure the government still agrees."
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