Introduction Products Information Gallery Links Email

Back to the list of articles

CN ON: Column: Marijuana Debate Could Add Spark To Commons
Pubdate: Fri, 16 Mar 2001
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2001 The Toronto Star
Address: One Yonge St., Toronto ON, M5E 1E6
Fax: (416) 869-4322
Author: Chantal Hebert


OTTAWA - ONE would never argue that Prime Minister Jean Chretien is an activist.  As he told his cabinet early in his tenure, in his book, the best ministers are those who manage to keep legislation to a minimum. 

If anything, over the years, Chretien's penchant for inertia has increased.  As a result, the notion of Parliament engaging the country in a national discussion on any hot topic at his government's initiative has become almost moot. 

Now, the House of Commons is about to be once again confirmed in its growing irrelevancy as the government gets set to bypass Parliament on the road to making the country's marijuana law constitutional. 

Last year, the Ontario Court of Appeal ordered the federal government to rewrite its law on marijuana possession before next July 31 or see it struck from the books.  In particular, the court wants the legal status of those who need marijuana for medical reasons clarified. 

But rather than legalize marijuana possession or sale for therapeutic purposes, sources say Chretien is about to go the regulation route. 

The law, as written, would stand but exemptions would be built in so as to allow those who smoke marijuana as a part of a medical treatment, as well as groups such as "compassion clubs" that provide it to them, to enjoy immunity from prosecution. 

This back-door approach means the debate will be restricted to bureaucrats and courts with Parliament kept out of the wider issue of whether Canada's approach to marijuana is outdated. 

And while sidestepping that debate is clearly the government's goal, it is a missed opportunity in many more ways than one. 

The opposition parties have all expressed interest in debating the marijuana law with MPs of all persuasions introducing a variety of private members' bills on the issue.  Indeed, at the initiative of Tory Senator Pierre-Claude Nolin, a senate committee has been set up to look into legalizing marijuana use.  But as instructive as the Senate discussion might be, it will hardly have the high profile a government-led Commons debate would have. 

Among the issues begging exploration, the NDP, for instance, would surely want to know whether the United States' vehement opposition to any loosening of Canadian drug laws accounts for the government's shyness about having the issue debated. 

Down in Washington, any baby step on the part of Canada to remove cannabis from the list of legally prohibited substances is bound to be seen as sabotage of the American so-called war on drugs. 

With their strong interest in law and order issues, the Canadian Alliance and the Tories can only be concerned by the energy squandered by both the police and the courts as they deal with thousands of marijuana offenders every year - mostly by giving them a slap on the wrist - all at the expense of tackling serious crimes. 

The Canadian Association of Police Chiefs, for one, has long asked federal legislators to consider writing out of the Criminal Code marijuana possession for individual use. 

As for the Bloc Quebecois, it makes a good case for finding ways to get the marijuana cash cow out of the hands of organized crime groups who squat on farmers' lands to grow cannabis and terrorize them in the process.  In Quebec, biker gangs have basically cornered the marijuana market. 

On a wider scale, access to and consumption of marijuana is an issue that has increasing resonance in the life of Canadians. 

As they grow older and sicker, baby boomers are bound to rediscover the drug of choice of their youth.  Already, a variety of seniors' associations have taken up the cause of freer access to marijuana. 

At the other end of the age scale, the current law is not stopping young people from experimenting with cannabis but, as health activists point out, it is preventing teenagers from being informed properly about where to draw the line between recreational use and drug abuse. 

Much as a previous generation was often advised to deal with the sexual revolution by preaching abstinence to its children, today's parents are expected to act as though a blanket condemnation of marijuana would keep it out of their offspring's environment. 

While Canada is unlikely to have cannabis on offer alongside tobacco and alcohol anytime soon, if ever, a parliamentary debate could only lead to a better-informed public and, eventually, a less hypocritical regimen. 

Not to mention the golden opportunity for parliamentarians on all sides of the issue to show a new generation of voters that the House of Commons is not really just another of the national capital's many museums.

Back to the list of articles

Introduction Products Information Gallery Links Email