HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Uptight Yanks Should Chill Out About Pot
Pubdate: Tue, 23 Nov 2004
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2004 The London Free Press a division of Sun Media Corporation.
Author: Julie Ryan
Note: Julie Ryan is a London freelance writer.
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Julie Ryan, Special To The Free Press

I couldn't believe my eyes. There, on the television screen, was one
of Canada's most well-known and respected authors, Pierre Berton.

And he was showing us how to roll a joint.

"Be sure to remove any twigs and seeds," he counselled. "I prefer the
classic cone-shaped joint, what the young people call a 'coner.' "

Surely this must be an actor playing Berton, someone hired by Rick
Mercer's Monday Report, I thought. But no, it was really him.

I can say with certainty that a nationally known author and journalist
with Berton's stature would never do this in the United States.
Anti-drug groups would assail him, the media would persecute him, and
his book publisher would probably drop him.

Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in both the U.S. and
Canada. About one in four Canadian adults reports having used cannabis
at some time in their lives, and 1.5 million Canadians smoke marijuana
recreationally, according to a Canadian Medical Association estimate.

What's different between the two countries is how the federal
governments choose to deal with it.

This month, Parliament reintroduced a bill that would decriminalize
marijuana possession throughout Canada. Bill C-17 would make the
possession and use of up to 15 grams (about half an ounce) of
cannabis, and/or the cultivation of up to three plants, punishable by
a fine of up to $400, rather than jail time. Nearly seven in 10
Canadians support this legislation, while only 51 per cent of
Americans favour decriminalization.

In Canada, there seems to be an acceptance that marijuana is no more
harmful -- and many argue considerably less harmful -- than the legal
drugs alcohol and tobacco, as well as a wink-wink attitude and wry
amusement toward the recreational user and small-time dealer.

In the U.S., the federal government has taken a hard-line approach on

The American war on drugs, launched in 1970, has classed marijuana
with heroin, cocaine, and LSD. More that five million Americans have
been jailed on marijuana charges in the past decade, the vast majority
of these for possession charges (as opposed to production or sale).

Under U.S. federal law, possessing a single marijuana cigarette or
less is punishable by up to one year in prison and a $10,000 fine --
the same penalty as possession of small amounts of heroin, cocaine or

Police arrest more Americans per year on marijuana charges than for
all violent crimes combined, including murder, rape, robbery and
aggravated assault. The average time spent in prison for federal
marijuana charges -- 42 months -- is about the same as the average for
those violent crimes. African-Americans are arrested and convicted at
far greater rates than whites.

At the same time, 12 U.S. states have decriminalized the possession of
limited amounts marijuana for personal use. In my home state of
Minnesota, for example, possession of less than 42 grams of marijuana
will bring a $300 US fine.

Considering that some American states have more relaxed laws than the
one the Canadian Liberals are proposing, it's interesting that the
U.S. ambassador would threaten Canada about the consequences of the
proposed law.

"Why, when we're trying to take pressure off the border, would Canada
pass a law that would put pressure on the border?" Paul Cellucci, U.S.
ambassador to Canada, said of the proposed law.

John Walters, U.S. drug czar, issued similar non-specific but ominous
warnings the last time the Canadian government considered
decriminalizing pot. "It's domestic policy in a sovereign country,
it's their business. Shipping poison to the United States is our
business," he said in 2003.

While the American war on drugs has been a failure -- its most visible
result is the incarceration of millions of Americans for non-violent
offences -- Canada is taking steps to make its drug policies more
practical and in line with the wishes of the people.

Perhaps it's time drug czar Walters took a few tips from Pierre
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