HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html New National Policy On Drugs Overdue
Pubdate: Wed, 07 Jun 2000
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2000 The London Free Press a division of Sun Media Corporation.
Author: Hartley Steward


Julian Fantino's Right: Canada Should Decriminalize Marijuana

How overdue is the legalization of marijuana? Toronto's loquacious police 
chief, Julian Fantino, recently called for a degree of decriminalization of 
the wacky weed and no one has batted an eye. Attitudes to marijuana use 
have come a long way in the last decade.

That the police chief of Canada's largest city can suggest that not 
everyone who smokes grass ought to be locked away in the slammer, without 
causing hysteria, is an indication of just how far.

"I don't think every case involving a minute amount of marijuana needs to 
go through the criminal justice system," the chief said last week.

Fantino had more to say, but it comes down to the fact he doesn't think a 
little grass is a big thing. He'd like his police force to turn pot heads 
over to the health system and get on with the job of catching some really 
bad guys.

Even 10 years ago, a large portion of the community would have been 
outraged at a police chief recommending we go easy on pot heads. Fantino's 
remarks caused a big yawn.

I would guess that's because no one cares one way or the other. The average 
Canadian couldn't give a hoot how many people toke up on a regular basis; 
much less want them punished for it.

Over the years, marijuana has been totally demystified. No one fears 
it.  No one associates the crazed druggie with soft drugs like marijuana 
and hashish. The term "reefer madness," which was the title of a 
anti-marijuana propaganda film of the 1950s, now gets a good 
laugh.  Middle-class Canadians, who most likely won't adopt the lifestyle 
themselves, look on its use by other as completely benign.

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police several years ago recommended 
changes to the law that would decriminalize recreational use of the drug. 
Police routinely overlook possession of small amounts of grass. They still 
feel obliged to enforce trafficking laws, but many would like to ignore 
them, as well.

Fantino makes the point that police forces need to be freed to do their 
core job, which is the prevention of crime. He laments the resources in 
police forces and the courts that are eaten up in the pursuit and 
prosecution of small-time cannabis users.

He would like "a more contemporary" approach. Indeed, given his druthers, 
chasing down pot smokers would not be a police force priority.  Most 
Canadians would agree with him on the issue.

Why then do we still have legislation that sends people to jail for using 
marijuana recreationally? How is it that patients and doctors have had to 
take to the courts to get permission to use the drug medicinally? Why do 
they still employ helicopters in British Columbia to spot fields of 
marijuana amongst the legal crops?

The fact of the matter is the police and the courts both realize our 
marijuana laws no longer reflect the wishes of most Canadians; that their 
enforcement is a waste of resources which could be better deployed 
elsewhere. The prosecution of recreational pot and hashish users would be 
on very few priority lists.

The case for decriminalization of recreational marijuana and hashish use is 
easy to make. The police are in favour of rethinking the use, possession 
and trafficking laws. No one believes the consequences of a few puffs of 
grass should be a term in prison. There would be little resistance to changes.

A new national policy on drugs is clearly overdue.

Which raises the question of why such a change is not winding its way 
through the legislative process as we speak? It isn't and it won't be for 
some time. It's difficult enough to find a champion for the medicinal use 
of marijuana, let alone recreational use.

However justified, legalizing the use of marijuana and hashish -- even 
limited decriminalization for simple possession -- is not an issue that's 
going to capture the imagination of any Canadian politician of any stripe.

There are precious few political points to be scored by publicly pushing 
for such changes. The legislation will remain in place and the police will 
continue to waste time, money and personnel chasing down tokers.
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