HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Decriminalizing Pot
Pubdate: Thu, 16 Aug 2001
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2001 Southam Inc.
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


As the National Post's recent three-part series by Diane Francis 
demonstrates, the marijuana industry is alive and well in Canada. 
Despite decades of judicial effort to stamp it out, marijuana is 
perhaps more readily available than ever. Because marijuana use not 
seen by many as posing a health hazard, and because criminal 
penalties have long been fixed in proportions that attempt to staunch 
supply rather than demand, people have to regard marijuana use as not 
a "real" crime.

In a poll for the Post last year, seven out of 10 Canadians said 
marijuana possession should be punished with no more than a fine. 
Only 21% thought abolishing jail time would be a "bad" or "very bad" 
idea, and 10% had no opinion.

Canadians are equally tolerant of marijuana use by elected 
politicians. In 1998, 61% of respondents in a poll said it would not 
affect their view to discover that a politician had used marijuana in 
the preceding year; 3% said they would consider it a plus. A little 
over a third of those surveyed said they would be less likely to vote 
for a pot smoker, but 83% said they would be less likely to vote for 
someone with "a known drinking problem."

Softening public attitudes run parallel to expert opinion.

A 1998 editorial in the British medical journal, The Lancet, 
concluded that "moderate indulgence in cannabis has little effect on 
health." In May, an editorial in the Canadian Medical Association 
Journal said "there are no reported cases of fatal marijuana 
overdoses." Arguing that marijuana offenses should be become a civil 
matter punishable by a fine "like a traffic violation," the journal 
noted that the real harm marijuana users experience takes the form of 
lost educational, employment and travel opportunities due to the 
criminal record they acquire.

Cannabis decriminalization is favoured by the federally funded 
Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, the Association of Canadian 
Police Chiefs, and the Canadian Bar Association (the latter has 
espoused this position since 1978). "Prohibition has failed" The 
Economist magazine declared last week, "the laws on drugs are doing 
more harm than good."

In November, the Supreme Court of Canada will hear arguments by three 
men who claim that denying adults the right to ingest a substance 
less harmful and less addictive than nicotine and alcohol is 
unconstitutional. Given that the Ontario Court of Appeal struck down 
the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act last August, thereby 
paving the way for the medical use of cannabis, it is possible the 
highest court in the land will hand down a decision that, in effect, 
decriminalizes pot.

The judiciary should not make law, but this newspaper would support a 
move by politicians to bring the country's marijuana laws into line 
with public opinion.
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