DRUG WAR BRIEFS: Oh, Canada!

"If Americans ever figure out where Canada is, marijuana prohibition could be in a lot of trouble." -- Richard Cowan, former head of NORML, now editor of www.marijuananews.com
Thirteen million Americans have been arrested on marijuana-related charges since 1970, at a rate of one arrest every 46 seconds. Nearly 5 million of these arrests occurred under eight years of Clinton-Gore. While the fledgling Bush administration appears poised to continue making these arrests with similar intensity, a movement toward ending marijuana prohibition has been gathering momentum in Canada.

A recent nationwide poll showed 47 percent of Canadians agreed with the statement "The use of marijuana should be legalized." Support for legalization was highest in BC, at 56 percent, and lowest in the Maritimes, at 43 percent (margin of error +/-3.5 percent).

One day after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that there is no medical exemption from marijuana prohibition, "even if the patient is 'seriously ill' and lacks alternative avenues for relief," the Canadian Medical Association Journal editorialized in favor of decriminalizing marijuana possession, generally.

May 17 Canada's House of Commons votes unanimously to create a special Senate committee to examine the issue of non-medical drug use. Members of all five parties say they see intend to discuss legalization, or at least decriminalization, of marijuana as part of a sweeping look at the country's drug strategy.

May 19 The Globe and Mail reports: Justice Minister Anne McLellan said yesterday she is "quite open" to a debate on whether marijuana should be legalized, or at least decriminalized, in Canada. McLellan said it is "absolutely" time for Ottawa to consider whether some illegal "soft" drugs should continue to be banned.

May 22 Progressive Conservative leader Joe Clark says that he favours decriminalizing marijuana, making possession a civil offense, like a traffic violation.

May 23 The Montreal Gazette reports: Health Minister Allan Rock says he will "participate with enthusiasm" in planned House of Commons hearings into the possible decriminalization or even legalization of "mari," as he described it, using the familiar French term for "pot."

Rock recalled that it has been 30 years since the LeDain Commission on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs recommended decriminalization of marijuana and the possibility of its gradual legalization. The Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau, which named the LeDain Commission, did not carry out those recommendations.

May 29 The National Post reports: Despite mounting pressure from his own MPs to reform Canada's drug laws, Jean Chretien, the Prime Minister, has ruled out the decriminalization of marijuana.

Mr. Chretien told reporters yesterday he supports the federal policy of legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes. But he gave a blunt, succinct "No" when asked if his government intends to go any further. He later said he welcomes renewed public debate on the issue, but suggested it would not change his mind.

May 30 Andrew Coyne, of The National Post, in a scathing op-ed of Chretien, writes: No, the Prime Minister said. No, there would be no question of decriminalizing marijuana.

The special all-party committee on Canada's drug laws, struck two weeks ago to consider such issues, might as well turn in its report now ... Under Jean Chretien's rule, Members of Parliament have been reduced to obedient footmen, their talents wasted, their opinions scorned, their responsibilities limited to voting as the party whip demands.

June 1 The Ottawa Citizen reports that "Possession of cannabis is near the bottom of the list of the federal government's crime statistics, which are ranked in order of police priority." However, the likelihood of being arrested for marijuana varies dramatically across the country. British Columbia residents caught with marijuana face only a 1 in 6 chance of being charged, while similar Saskatchewan residents face a 3 in 4 chance.

June 4 The Globe and Mail in an editorial titled "Why Decriminalization is the Wisest Choice," states: For Canada, as for the Dutch, outright legalization of marijuana is not currently an option. Hostility from south of the border would be acute. Decriminalization, on the other hand, is feasible. The grey legal terrain that would open up would not be especially satisfactory. But it would be better than the status quo.

Kevin Nelson can be reached at kcnelson@premier1.net
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