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Pubdate: Mon, 07 Oct 2002
Source: Report Magazine (CN AB)
Copyright: 2002 Report Magazine, United Western Comm Ltd
Author: Kevin Michael Grace


Discussion of the decriminalization or legalization of marijuana is as least as old as the Le Dain Commission of 1972. Pierre Trudeau's last Liberal government actually tabled legislation. If Jean Chretien's last government considers decriminalization, it will test the limits of Canadian sovereignty.

On September 13, John Walters, U.S. director of national drug-control policy, delivered the third American warning on marijuana.

According to the Globe and Mail, "Mr. Walters told a Detroit news conference that Canada 'cannot justify liberalizing its cannabis policy.'" He insisted marijuana has no medical benefits.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency now has offices in Ottawa and Vancouver. The DEA is one of the most feared agencies in the U.S. Its activities in Canada are mostly secret, but an August 31 judgment by Madam Justice J.R. Dillon of the B.C. Supreme Court revealed "blatant acts in disregard of Canadian sovereign values and law." She refused to allow extradition of an alleged drug trafficker after finding the evidence was compiled by a DEA agent acting illegally in Canada. Vancouver Sun columnist Paul Willocks reported that Justice Minister Martin Cauchon had no comment on the verdict and that the Crown was considering an appeal--on behalf of the U.S.

Two months ago, the Toronto Compassion Centre, which had furnished marijuana to 1,300 sufferers of AIDS, cancer, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma and other diseases for five years, was forced out of business after a raid which resulted in four arrests and a bail agreement. Volunteer Jim Brydges fears American involvement. He claims the centre had long enjoyed a friendly relationship with Toronto police. "They were in and out all the time," he says. On August 13, he says, the centre's door was smashed with a battering ram, and unmarked police stormed the building.

Mr. Brydges claims a Toronto policeman told the receptionist the raid "didn't come from them; it came from a much higher authority." He concludes, "Our belief is that the DEA has encroached in Canada much more than we have been led to believe."

Mr. Brydges, who has AIDS, is one of 848 Canadians exempt from marijuana laws for medical reasons.

He says that marijuana remains the only way thousands of Canadians can obtain relief from crippling pain or nausea. Medical marijuana will now be much harder to obtain in Toronto; and Health Minister Anne McLellan has announced that clinical trials of its grown-in-Canada crop would not result in government distribution for perhaps five years. "I hope I'm still alive then," Mr. Brydges proclaims. He believes that the Americans "got to" Ms. McLellan.

Canadian Alliance MP Keith Martin has long campaigned for marijuana decriminalization. He commends some, but not all, of the September 4 recommendations of the Senate committee on illegal drugs.

He explains, "It was good that they called for an amnesty for those convicted of simple possession. These convictions greatly impede professional, educational and travel opportunities for many. The call for Canada and the U.S. to develop a coherent and comprehensive plan to deal with substance abuse was good. The so-called war on drugs has failed, is failing and will continue to fail. What I disagree with is its call to legalize marijuana . The European experience has shown that decriminalization reduces drug use, crime and illness, but legalization, when done next to a large market is a powerful inducement to organized crime."

Dr. Martin also praises the Senate's recommendation on medical marijuana. "My view as a physician," he explains, "is that if somebody is suffering, and we have not been able to alleviate that pain, these people have the right to take whatever they want, so long as it does not hurt anyone else." Decriminalization, he contends, "is Canada's decision to make."

Dr. Martin's opinion of the Senate's recommendations is not shared by Alliance leader Stephen Harper. He called the report further justification for Senate reform, saying the recommendations were beyond "radical," "border almost on advocating use of marijuana...As a parent, I would be more concerned about pot use than alcohol use by my children and five], even in moderation." Alliance caucus vice-chairman Randy White commented, "The motto of this report should be: We can't stop the let's tax it." He also cited "problems" with an amnesty.

The Canadian Police Association called the report "a back-to-school gift for drug pushers." It declared, "Unfortunately, there are too many politicians playing scientist...Drugs are not dangerous because they are illegal; drugs are illegal because they are dangerous."

Justice Minister Cauchon commented that he believes there is "strong support" for decriminalization. He cautioned that legalization was probably made impossible by Canadian treaty obligations. We shall soon discover whether decriminalization is practically impossible. Washington has not hesitated to crush federalism to enforce its will in the war on drugs.

In 1996, Californians decided in a referendum to permit the medical use of marijuana. The federal government announced it would simply ignore a state's rights and the people's will, and it later won its case at the Supreme Court. And while Washington disregards California, it pretends Canada does not exist.

Charlie McKenzie reported in the August 8 Vancouver Sun that he asked DEA spokesman Tom Hinojosa how many agents it has in Canada. He replied, "Normally, for security and operational reasons, we don't put out officer strength in any certain area, but we presently have 78 offices in 56 countries. We're just not used to thinking of Canada as a foreign country."

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