HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Chretien Pushed Pot Law Reforms In 1981
Pubdate: Sun, 22 Sep 2002
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2002 The London Free Press a division of Sun Media Corporation.


OTTAWA (CP) -- Jean Chretien helped launch an initiative to radically 
reform marijuana laws when he was justice minister in 1981, newly released 
records show.

Cabinet documents from the government of then prime minister Pierre Trudeau 
show Chretien pressed cabinet to lower fines, reduce jail sentences and 
eliminate the criminal records of Canadians convicted of possessing small 
amounts of marijuana.

Chretien also tabled a discussion paper at cabinet that, among other 
things, raised the possibility of legalizing marijuana.

"Legalization and any regulation of cannabis production, distribution and 
use would likely reduce some of the adverse consequences of using the 
criminal law in this area," says the Jan. 23, 1981, paper.

"Because the conduct would be legal there would be no offences, no criminal 
records and no stigmatization. As well, there would be a significant 
reduction of an illicit market, which obliges people to engage in criminal 
activities or deal with criminal types in order to supply themselves with 

Documents detailing the reform proposals, which were never put into effect, 
were obtained under the Access to Information Act. The law permits 
disclosure of cabinet records after 20 years.

Between January and July 1981, Chretien joined Robert Kaplan and Monique 
Begin -- the solicitor general and health minister -- in trying to persuade 
cabinet colleagues to lighten the fines and prison terms for simple 
possession of marijuana. The proposals would also curb police powers and 
provide pardons to those convicted under the previous, harsher law.

Full legalization, although briefly considered, was ultimately rejected 
partly because "there is little doubt . . . that legalized distribution 
would likely result in the increased use of cannabis by Canadians thereby 
increasing the health and safety hazards."

More than two decades later, the torch has passed to Prime Minister Jean 
Chretien's own justice minister, who is considering the decriminalization 
of marijuana.

Martin Cauchon said this summer there is "strong support" among Canadians 
for a new legal regime that would drop penalties against people who possess 
and use small quantities of the drug.

Earlier this month, a Senate committee called on the government to legalize 
and regulate the production and sale of marijuana and to erase the criminal 
records of those already convicted of simple possession.
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