CLARK SUPPORTS DECRIMINALIZING MARIJUANA
As he has done several times during his political career, Tory Leader Joe Clark called Tuesday for the decriminalization of marijuana.
"I believe the least controversial approach is decriminalization because it's unjust to see someone, because of one decision one night in their youth, carry the stigma to be barred from studying medicine, law, architecture or other fields where a criminal record could present an obstacle," Mr. Clark said while on a visit to Quebec.
"I'm making a distinction between legalization and decriminalization. What interests me is decriminalization."
Advocates of medical marijuana, well aware of Mr. Clark's past statements on decriminalization, were surprised and encouraged by his remarks. It's not the first time in the veteran politician's career that he took that argument.
In 1979, Mr. Clark, who was the Conservative Opposition Leader at the time, wrote a strongly-worded letter to an Alberta man committing the party to an election campaign that would include decriminalizing marijuana.
"Once we have dealt with economic and institutional changes, we intend to act on decriminalization in the first term of office of a new Government," he wrote. "Any moves toward establishing a government system of distribution would have to be studied carefully in advance...We believe that government sales should be among the options examined."
Last week, a unanimous motion was passed by all parties in the House of Commons to strike a committee to study the issue of non-medicinal drugs in Canada.
Increasingly, high profile politicians are voicing their support for decriminalization of marijuana. Last week, federal Justice Minister Anne McLellan said she was "quite open" to a debate on the issue. Health Minister Allan Rock has also said he supports medicinal use and Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day has admitted he smoked pot in his youth.
And last week, an editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal advocated the decriminalization of marijuana possession for personal use.
"My opinion is not necessarily shared by all the members of my party, but it's the sort of approach we will favour before the committee," Mr. Clark said.
Marijuana advocates were surprised and mostly positive about Mr. Clark's support for decriminalization.
Dana Larsen, editor of Cannabis Culture magazine and Deputy Leader of the B.C. Marijuana Party, said "I'm glad to hear him say this. I do think the Tories believe [cannabis] should be decriminalized."
"Anything they do not to put people in jail is a step in the right direction =2E"
The party, running in its first election, got 3.2 per cent of the vote in last week's B.C. election, but Mr. Larsen said the support points to increasing effort by political parties to put decriminalization on their agendas.
Mr. Larsen said politicians are forced to play catch-up, as court decisions and compassion clubs show that public support is increasing.
He said Ottawa has studied the issue and now it's time to act. Although he doesn't think marijuana will be decriminalized without "a great deal of effort," he said that it's accepted that "medicinal marijuana" can aid those in chronic pain.
Philip McMillan, the facilities director for the Nelson Cannabis Compassion Club in British Columbia, said marijuana is becoming acceptable by all classes of people, pointing to the discussions in right-wing parties.
A poll released Tuesday reported that Canadians are now evenly split on legalizing the drug, compared with 26-per-cent support 1975.
The United States, meanwhile, is coming down hard on illegal drugs. Last Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that pot pharmacies are no longer allowed to legally grow and distribute medicinal marijuana.
But other countries are taking the opposite approach. In January, the Belgian government agreed to decriminalize the use of marijuana, following a similar decision in the Netherlands.
Philippe Lucas, director of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society, has heard enough talk. "I think it's good that this discussion and debate is to go on, but we've been here before," he said. "It's now time for action."