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News (Media Awareness Project) - Canada: Editorial: Pot Legalization: An Endless Saga
Title:Canada: Editorial: Pot Legalization: An Endless Saga
Published On:2012-01-17
Source:National Post (Canada)
Fetched On:2012-01-19 06:02:26

The single concrete policy proposal to emerge from the weekend Liberal
convention - a resolution urging the legalization of marijuana - is
being touted as "controversial." But it shouldn't be. For the last
quarter century, a majority of Canadians have supported the
decriminalization of simple marijuana possession. Since then,
thousands of AIDS patients and other sick Canadians have procured
government certificates that permit them to use marijuana for pain and
nausea relief. Over the last decade, the Canadian Medical Association,
the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, the Association of Police
Chiefs and the Canadian Bar Association have all come out in favour of
decriminalization. A committee of the Canadian Senate even went one
step further, proposing outright marijuana legalization.

Indeed, as Lorne Gunter writes on these pages, the push for marijuana
reform goes back even further - to the age of disco: The subject was a
hot topic at the Liberal convention of 1978. Yet in the 33 years
since, nothing much has happened on this file.

If so many smart, well-informed Canadians have signed on to marijuana
reform, why do thousands of Canadians still go to jail every year for
possessing a substance that is less dangerous than tobacco or alcohol,
and which is used regularly by one in six Canadians? (Bob Rae himself
has confessed to having used marijuana in the past - a fact that
shocked absolutely no one; nor should it.)

The Conservative government's opposition to marijuana reform is easy
to explain: From its early days, Stephen Harper's party has dedicated
itself to a doctrinaire "tough on crime" agenda. In 2006, when asked
whether the Tories would do anything to advance the issue of pot
decriminalization, thenjustice minister Vic Toews responded: "It is a
very short answer, and the answer is no."

That's a retrograde attitude. But at least the Tories are forthright
about their position on the issue. By contrast, the Liberals
repeatedly floated the idea of marijuana reform from 2003 to 2005, and
even intro-duced legislation to decriminalize possession of small
amounts of pot, only to let the issue die. While Paul Martin indicated
that he supported the cause of reform in principle, he reportedly was
concerned about the reaction from the United States, where the federal
government remains wedded to the war-on-drugs model that Mr. Rae
(rightly) denounced as a failure this past weekend. In her capacity as
health minister, and then public safety minister under Mr. Martin,
Anne McLellan was particularly hawkish in her opposition to marijuana
reform - for similar U.S.-centric reasons.

The National Post editorial board has repeatedly expressed support for
the legalization of marijuana. But we realize that it likely will
never happen while Mr. Harper remains Canada's prime minister. Even if
the Liberals or NDP win power, the next prime minister will still have
to wrestle with the same concerns that blocked decriminalization under
the Liberals a decade ago.

And it must be conceded that those concerns weren't trivial: If
marijuana is decriminalized in Canada, our country will effectively
become America's northern ganja grow-op. No matter how much we may
crow about Canadian sovereignty, it is a fact that the United States
has the power of life and death over cross-border trade. No one wants
to wait four hours at U.S. customs because border agents are checking
every car trunk and suitcase for legal Canadian weed.

The best way to pursue drug reform is in concert with the United
States and Mexico (where the drug war claims roughly 10,000 lives per
year). While there is currently little appetite for drug reform in
Washington, the same is not true for state governments: Since 1996, 16
U.S. states have enacted laws to legalize medical marijuana -
including six that border Canada. Drug reform will not happen
overnight in the United States. But a Liberal government would at
least have partners for dialogue.
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