HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Police Chief Slams Legal Pot Plan
Pubdate: Thu, 05 Sep 2002
Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Copyright: 2002 The Edmonton Journal
Author: Tim Naumetz


Proposal could lead to drug being sold in government-run stores:

Senate Committee Urges Marijuana Legalization

A Senate committee has unanimously called for the legalization of 
marijuana, with government-licensed production and sale of the drug to any 
Canadian citizen over the age of 16.

The proposal could lead the way to marijuana being sold in government-run 
stores or even corner groceries, like tobacco or wine, said Conservative 
Senator Pierre-Claude Nolin, chairman of a special committee that conducted 
a two-year investigation into the use of cannabis.

Nolin and the committee's co-chairman, Liberal Senator Colin Kenny, said 
Wednesday all inquiry members agreed more harm than good is being done by 
making marijuana possession a criminal offence.

"Whether or not an individual uses marijuana should be a personal choice 
that is not subject to criminal penalties," Nolin said, adding the 
committee believed keeping the drug illegal, but subject to non-criminal 
laws, would not end its production and distribution by organized crime gangs.

"We have come to the conclusion that, as a drug, it should be regulated by 
the state as much as we do for wine and beer, hence our preference for 
legalization over decriminalization," Nolin said.

Edmonton police Chief Bob Wasylyshen said he was "very surprised that the 
Senate committee would have taken such a large leap on this issue, in 
making that sort of a recommendation."

He expected an initial step towards decriminalization, coupled with the 
introduction of a national drug strategy and prevention program.

"Yet, they seem to be advocating outright legalization, which I think is 
very troubling," he said.

"To simply make a recommendation to legalize marijuana without having the 
framework of some sort of a national drug policy built around it, doesn't 
seem reasonable to me.

"We already have a great deal of problems with alcohol consumption and 
abuse. We already have a lot of health and social issues regarding tobacco 
use. Now we're talking about perhaps legalizing the use of a drug that has 
been very controversial. The direction that I would hope we would be going 
is to advocate for a drug free society."

Wasylyshen noted that the DARE program run by the Edmonton police 
discourages drug use of any kind among teens.

"What a mixed message," this is, he said. "It seems like a large leap on 
this particular issue that has come rather unexpectedly."

The Senate committee also called for an amnesty for any person who has been 
convicted of cannabis possession under current or past legislation, which 
could include freeing prisoners serving time solely for a 
marijuana-possession offence.

Nolin and Kenny, however, insisted the committee does not want to promote 
the use of marijuana, particularly by young people.

"Make no mistake, we are not endorsing cannabis use for recreational 
consumption," said Nolin, who called on the government to begin the process 
of legalization by announcing a new drug policy this fall and holding a 
conference of provincial governments and experts.

The Canadian Police Association denounced the committee's recommendations, 
saying Nolin and his colleagues began the study with the belief that 
marijuana possession should be legalized and set about to prove their case. 
"We are appalled but not surprised," said David Griffin, the association's 
executive officer. The committee report "is nothing more than a 
back-to-school gift for drug pushers."

The Senate committee released a 600-page report detailing testimony and 
quoting studies it said "overwhelmingly" indicate marijuana is less harmful 
than alcohol and should be treated as a social and public-health issue 
rather than a criminal matter.

"Domestic and international experts and Canadians from every walk of life 
told us loud and clear that we should not be imposing criminal records on 
users or unduly prohibiting personal use of cannabis," Nolin said.

The report said that as far as cannabis is concerned, only behaviour 
causing demonstrable harm to others should be prohibited. The areas were 
illegal trafficking, selling to young people under age 16 and impaired 
driving. The committee estimated governments spend $300 million to $500 
million annually enforcing laws against marijuana and recommended the money 
be re-directed into drug-abuse programs, preventive-health programs and 
border surveillance once marijuana is legalized.

Suggesting law officers spend too much time and resources enforcing 
marijuana laws, the committee said 43 per cent of drug-related cases now 
are for simple possession of marijuana.

Canada has one of the highest rates of cannabis use among youth in the 
world, with 225,000 young people in the 12-17 age group using the drug 
daily, the committee said. About one million youth in the same age bracket 
have used cannabis in the previous year.

With files from Journal Staff Writer Mark Spector
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