The Toronto Star
May. 4, 01:00 EDT
Redefining a crime
They are unlikely revolutionaries; five senators, ranging in age from 51 to 72, who have taken it upon themselves to review Canada's laws on cannabis.
The Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs released its first discussion paper this week. Although the senators stopped short of endorsing the decriminalization of marijuana, it is clear that they are leaning in that direction. They invited Canadians to address a series of questions at public hearings across the country:
"Research evidence we have received to date does not appear to support criminalization of and penalization of cannabis. Do you share this view?"
"Studies appear to indicate that the current policy approach may cause more harm than good. Do you agree?"
"If Canada were to adopt a different, more liberal approach to cannabis, should it take into account the reaction of the United States?"
There is a quixotic quality to this exercise. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien has made it clear that he has no interest in loosening Canada's marijuana laws. Just last month, the Liberal government killed a private member's bill that would have decriminalized marijuana possession.
Nevertheless, the committee, chaired by Tory senator Pierre Claude Nolin, a Montreal lawyer, is determined to take an "open, objective, impartial'' look at Canada's anti-drug policies. In the first phase of its inquiry, it heard from doctors, pharmacologists, police officers, lawyers, federal bureaucrats and the head of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission. Now it wants to bring ordinary Canadians into the dialogue.
This effort deserves to be taken seriously, no matter how dismissive the governing Liberals appear to be.
More than 30,000 Canadians are charged with marijuana possession every year. Hunting down pot users costs taxpayers millions of dollars — money that could be spent preventing kids from getting into more serious forms of drug abuse.
Marijuana is less addictive, and less dangerous, than tobacco or alcohol, both of which are legal. There is no credible evidence that it leads to the use of more potent drugs. Nor can police point to any clear link between cannabis use and crime.
The senators acknowledge that it is best not to use psycho-active substances such as cannabis. But they strongly suggest that there are better uses for public funds than trying to eradicate a widely used and relatively harmless recreational drug.
It is a refreshingly sane point of view. The government may find that millions of Canadians share it.