Pot less harmful than alcohol: Senate report

Senate committee report says marijuana less harmful than alcohol

Marijuana is less harmful than alcohol and should be governed by the same sort of regulations, says a Senate committee.

In its final report, released on Wednesday, the Special Committee on Illegal Drugs says the government should make smoking pot legal, and should wipe clean the records of anyone convicted of possession.

"In many ways prohibition is a cop-out," said Senator Pierre Claude Nolin, chair of the committee. He said drug policy should focus on harm reduction, prevention and treatment.

Marijuana has been illegal in Canada since 1923. About 20,000 people are arrested annually on marijuana-related charges.

That approach, the report says, has been ineffective in reducing use.

Canadians should be allowed to "choose whether to consume or not in security," Nolin told a news conference Wednesday morning.

"Scientific evidence overwhelmingly indicates that cannabis is substantially less harmful than alcohol and should be treated not as a criminal issue but as a social and public health issue," he said.

The Canadian Police Association (CPA) rejected that argument.

In a news conference Wednesday afternoon, CPA executive officer David Griffin said marijuana combines the mind-altering effects of alcohol with the risk of cancer from smoking.

Under the report's guidelines, marijuana use would be restricted to adults, and criminal law would still apply to producing and selling it.

Griffin said the CPA would fight any efforts to legalize or decriminalize marijuana or other drugs.

Senator Colin Kenny noted the committee unanimously supports the report and all its recommendations.

The committee doesn't condone the use of marijuana or other drugs, Kenny said. "We believe the recommendations you see in this report will ultimately result in a reduction of use."

Since it was struck in March 2001, the committee held 39 meetings, including town hall meetings in communities across the country, and heard from more than 100 witnesses from Canada and abroad.

The committee received 23 reports and looked at summaries of work done in other countries. It took into account Canada's international obligations and the approaches other countries take to drug policy.

The conclusions drawn are stark. "We really need to get our act together on a multi-lateral basis on our drug policy in general," Nolin said. "Canada is not even close to doing well enough."

In particular, the committee wants the government to deal quickly with issues surrounding medical use of marijuana.

Advocates of legalizing marijuana say the report goes much farther than they expected, and would address some of the real problems associated with drug trade.

"Our current drug laws fund organized crime, they fund terrorist groups around the world," Eugene Oscapella, executive director of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy, told CBC Newsworld.

"Our policies that we build around this drug are far more harmful than the drug itself."