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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.

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Should pot be sold at corner stores to anyone over 16? Some of Canada's most senior politicians think so. The Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs final report says marijuana is less harmful than alcohol and should be governed by the same sort of rules. And it recommends wiping clean the record of anyone already convicted of possession. The Canadian Police Association calls the report "a back-to-school gift for drug pushers."
• The Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs, headed by Senator Pierre Claude Nolin, was formed in April 2000. It was temporarily dissolved by the general election of October 2000, and restruck in March 2001. The final report was delivered in September 2002.

• 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.
Medium: Television
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
Duration: 3:06

Last updated: November 18, 2014

Page consulted on November 18, 2014

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