HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Reform Marijuana Laws
Pubdate: Wed, 17 Jul 2002
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2002 The Toronto Star


Canada's marijuana laws are not working. The country's police chiefs said 
so years ago. So did the Senate's legal affairs committee. Even the 
Canadian Medical Association Journal has joined the call for 
decriminalization of simple possession of cannabis for personal use.

Now Justice Minister Martin Cauchon is adding his voice, however 
tentatively, to the growing number of credible sources who think Canada's 
laws must be reworked.

Cauchon is toying with decriminalizing marijuana use by making possession 
of small amounts of cannabis a ticketing offence, much like a traffic 
violation. The suggestion follows on the heels of Britain, which last week 
became the latest European country to relax its possession laws.

There are strong, well-known arguments for making reforms here.

When the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs committee recommended in 
1996 to change the law, it reported an estimated 3 million Canadians were 
using marijuana and hashish. That, they said, was strong proof the punitive 
approach had failed.

Worse, the laws are unfairly applied. Possession is ignored in some cities 
but strictly prosecuted in others. About 5 per cent of the roughly 30,000 
Canadians charged each year with possessing a small amount of marijuana go 
to jail. How much respect can citizens have for a law that lets the vast 
majority walk, while sending a very few unlucky souls to jail?

All of this is not to dismiss the legitimate concerns that changing the law 
would increase pot-smoking and lead to the consumption of harder drugs like 
heroin and cocaine.

Research in the United States suggests that relaxed laws haven't had much 
effect. The 11 states that issue tickets for possession show no higher use 
than in states with tough laws.

As for hard drugs, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police believe 
they could actually do a better job on cracking down on more dangerous 
drugs and on traffickers if they could free up resources now used to 
enforce discredited marijuana laws.

Marijuana remains a vice, like drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes. It 
would be better handled through public education, not by giving people 
criminal records.
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