Marijuana debate rages on in Ottawa

Parties divided over legalization By Adam Grachnik, Ottawa Bureau September 25, 2002

(CUP) OTTAWA (CUP) — Canadian adults may soon be legally entitled to “blaze”, “smoke up” or “hit up the phat chronic” if a report tabled by the Canadian Senate is accepted and passed into law.

The report released by the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, calls for the legalization of marijuana.

“Judges, lawyers, college students [and] brain surgeons. Everyone smokes marijuana,” said Senator and committee member Tommy Banks. “Putting someone in jail for simply having a joint in their pocket is wrong.”

The report has triggered intense debate and staunch criticism from many MPs.

“It’s plain absurd,” said Randy White, Canadian Alliance MP and vice-president of the House of Commons committee on the non-medical use of drugs. “Two of the 11 findings were irresponsible. It’s a quantum leap from where we are today. We would be only country to do this [:] and that should tell you something.”

The extensive 600-page report concludes that, “only behaviour causing demonstrable harm to others should be prohibited: illegal trafficking, selling to young people under the age of sixteen and impaired driving.”

“Penalties for trafficking should skyrocket,” Banks said. “[You should] be put in jail and throw away the key.”

The report also recommends amnesty for “any person convicted of possession of cannabis under current or past legislation.”

“Why was marijuana ever criminalized?” asked Banks, about the 1923 Opium and Drug act, which criminalized cannabis.

“In retrospect there was no rational reason for criminalizing it in the first place,” he added, admitting to having smoked marijuana once, at a jazz concert in 1957.

White feels the committee is condoning the use of marijuana.

“While we spend hundreds of millions of dollars saying not to smoke, here is a committee saying outright, it’s okay to smoke marijuana,” he said.

Banks vehemently disagrees with this position.

“Nobody is encouraging use [of] drugs,” he said. “Drugs are bad and don’t do you any good. [But] putting morality aside, prohibition doesn’t work.”

“You’re living in some other place if you think prohibition laws are keeping drugs away,” he said.

The Marijuana Party, whose mandate is to demonstrate the social advantages to ending cannabis prohibition, welcomes the news.

“I’m happy,” said Marc-Boris St-Mauric, leader of the Marijuana Party. “[I’m] impressed with how far they [Senate Committee] went. They used explicit strong words.”

“Senators have given the marijuana party our platform for the next election,” St-Maurice added.

The report recommends the government set up prevention programs and to “adopt an integrated policy on the risks and harmful effects of psychoactive substances.”

It also recommends that the Marijuana Medical Access regulations be changed.

“Present medicinal marijuana provisions are not effective and must be revised to provide greater access for those in need,” the report observed.

Banks, who supports marijuana use for medicinal purposes, is optimistic about seeing the report become a reality.

“This has to be dealt with at all orders of government. It can be done with only one order,” he said, adding that marijuana should be controlled by the provinces.

“Fairly soon we’ll see decriminalization,” he said.

White, on the other hand, believes we’ll never see marijuana legalized.

“It’s not going to happen,” he said. “It’s [report] not going to get out of there [House of Commons], believe me.”

(Graphic from The National Institute on Drug Abuse)

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