HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Two-thirds favour decriminalizing pot
Pubdate: Mon, 15 May 2000
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2000 Southam Inc.
Contact:  300 - 1450 Don Mills Road, Don Mills, Ontario M3B 3R5
Fax: (416) 442-2209
Author: Jonathon Gatehouse, with files from Mark Stevenson


Poll suggests public changing its view on drug

Almost two-thirds of Canadians support the idea that possession of small
amounts of marijuana for personal use should be a non-criminal offence,
punishable by a fine rather than a jail term, according to the results of a
new National Post poll.

The national survey, conducted for the paper by COMPAS Inc., found that 65%
of those questioned thought the concept of decriminalizing pot is an
excellent, very good, or good idea. Only 22% responded negatively to the
question, rejecting any change to the current law prohibiting possession as
bad or very bad. Thirteen percent of those surveyed did not have an opinion
or refused to answer the question.

The sample of 500 people is considered accurate to within 4.5 percentage
points 19 times out of 20.

The results suggest that recent calls from a growing number of high-profile
politicians and policy organizations for Canada to rethink the way it deals
with marijuana users are starting to change the way the public views the

An estimated 600,000 Canadians have criminal records for marijuana
possession. In 1998 alone, 19,200 adults and youths were charged for having
pot. Even though the court system rarely imprisons those caught using the
drug, a criminal conviction can pose serious problems in the search for
employment, and make travelling abroad almost impossible.

"There are real costs in terms of jobs, anxieties about having a record,
families finding out," says Dr. Patricia Erickson, a senior scientist with
the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.

The centre, formerly the Addiction Research Foundation, does not encourage
pot smoking, noting the potential health consequences of prolonged and heavy
use including respiratory damage and memory loss, but is calling for a
rethinking of federal policy toward the drug.

"We're not convinced that the criminal sanctions for possession are useful
for the individuals involved or society at large," says Carolyn Nutter,
vice-president of community health and education.

Several other health policy organizations, including the Canadian Centre for
Substance Abuse, are also calling for decriminalization of the drug. So are
a growing number of elected officials, from all points on the political
spectrum, most recently Ralph Klein, the Premier of Alberta. A special
Senate committee on Drug Policy in Canada and its effects, proposed by
Senator Pierre-Claude Nolin, who favours decriminalization, is set to begin
public hearings this fall.

Even the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police is calling for a revised
approach to marijuana. In August, 1999, the organization adopted a
resolution in favour of "alternative justice measures" in regards to
first-time pot offenders, including counselling, fines, and community
service rather than criminal sanctions.

Barry King, chief of the Brockville, Ont., police department and chairman of
the chiefs association's drug committee, says there is a recognition among
senior police officials that charging people for possession is both a waste
of time and money.

"We're dead set against legalization, but we think there has to be some
resolution," said Chief King. "Why are we wasting all that time when it ends
up being a conditional discharge anyway?"

However, the Canadian Police Association, which represents most of the
country's rank and file officers, takes the opposite point of view. Its drug
policy calls for "meaningful consequences" to deter the use of illegal
drugs, saying that drug use is a "significant contributing factor in a wide
range of crimes, including property offences, crimes of violence, robbery,
prostitution and organized crime gangs."

While Canadian thinking on possession of marijuana continues to evolve,
there seems little doubt that a vast majority of the population has now come
to grips with the notion that pot might have some medical application. When
asked if cannabis should be made legal for medical purposes, such as helping
cancer patients control pain, an overwhelming 92% of respondents to the
National Post poll answered in the affirmative.

Canadians also seem unconcerned about past marijuana use by their political
representatives. Using the race for the leadership of the Canadian Alliance
as an example, the Post asked respondents if their feelings about Stockwell
Day, Preston Manning, and Tom Long have changed because of recent
disclosures about their past. Mr. Day admits to having smoked pot when he
was young, while Mr. Manning and Mr. Long say they have never tried the

A full 90% of those surveyed said their feelings about the disclosures were
"neutral," suggesting past pot use is not such a big deal in Canada.
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