Legalize pot smoking, senators say
In 1923 it became illegal for Canadians to possess marijuana. But the laws have always been flouted, by recreational users who just want to get high, and by medicinal users seeking relief from pain and illness. From cannabis cafés to courtrooms, doctors and patients, rabble-rousers and senior statesmen have engaged in a passionate debate over marijuana possession. But the laws have endured.
• Like the LeDain commission 30 years earlier, the senate committee recommended a shift in policy away from prohibition, towards harm reduction, prevention and treatment.
The committee held hearings, studied scientific evidence and looked at popular opinion on marijuana. They concluded:
• Marijuana is not a "gateway drug" to harder drugs like heroin and cocaine
• Less than 10 per cent of users become addicted
• Law enforcement for possession is expensive and does not seem to discourage use
Most investigations into the legal status of marijuana end up comparing its use to that of alcohol and tobacco. The Senate report quotes a 1996 study that estimates Canadian "costs of substance abuse" (including mortality, health care and law enforcement) as follows:
• Illegal drugs: $1.4 billion
• Alcohol: $7.5 billion
• Tobacco: $9.6 billion
• A similar committee was working concurrently in the House of Commons. The Special Commons Committee on Non-medicinal drugs was established by an all-party agreement on May 17, 2001. Their report was delivered in December 2002. The Commons committee emphasized the dangers of marijuana use, but recommended decriminalizing possession of 30 grams or less of the substance. Justice Minister Martin Cauchon welcomed the report and said that new legislation would be introduced within a few months.
• While the federal government contemplates changing the legislation, some courts have begun to dismiss possession charges. In 2003, courts in Ontario, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia threw out several possession cases based on previous constitutional challenges to the law.
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Sept. 4, 2002
Guest(s): Martin Cauchon, David Griffin, Pierre Claude Nolin, Eugene Oscapella, Randy White
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Paul Hunter
Last updated: November 18, 2014
Page consulted on November 18, 2014
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