Newshawk: Carey Ker
Pubdate: Mon, 30 Sep 2002
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2002, The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Oliver Moore
DRUGS: OTTAWA WILL CONSIDER DECRIMINALIZATION
In what may prove to be the most contentious part of the activist agenda unveiled Monday, the governing Liberals announced that they will consider decriminalizing the possession of marijuana.
Speaking on behalf of Prime Minister Jean Chretien, Adrienne Clarkson told a packed Senate Chamber that a new national drug strategy will try to balance helping addicts with protecting the public.
"The government will . . . expand the number of drug treatment courts. It will act on the results of parliamentary consultations with Canadians on options for change in our drug laws, including the possibility of the decriminalization of marijuana possession," she said.
A 600-page Senate report earlier this month recommended legalizing marijuana and putting its distribution in the hands of the state, arguing that the drug is not harmful to health. Based on two years of studying drug policy and hundreds of interviews, the Senate report also called for an amnesty for any person convicted of possession of cannabis under current or past legislation and greater access to medicinal marijuana.
Marijuana decriminalization remains a political hot potato in spite of polls which show that at least half of Canadians accept the idea. Roughly 5 per cent of Canadians smoke marijuana regularly, and about 25,000 possession charges are laid annually. Marijuana possession accounts for almost half the drug charges laid in Canada - possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana will net most suspects a criminal record, a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail.
The Canadian Police Association is firmly opposed to loosening of drug laws, even as the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has spoken in favour of a new approach. Britain recently announced that simple possession of marijuana and hashish will no longer be cause for arrest, and the Netherlands have long operated a laissez-faire attitude towards drug use.
But the hardline U.S. adminitration of President George W. Bush remains firm in its belief that marijuana is a dangerous drug that must be stopped, by harsh prison sentences if necessary. Some Ottawa and Washington officials have warned privately that any Canadian move to soften drug laws will cause a rift between the countries. But others say that Washington will simply beef up its borders and look for other allies in its long-running war against drugs.