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Newshawk: (
Pubdate: Sun, 21 Jul 2002
Source: Toronto Sun (CN ON)
Copyright: 2002, Canoe Limited Partnership.
Author: Connie Woodcock


So Justice Minister Martin Cauchon admits he's smoked pot.  And he didn't say he merely "tried" it once or that he didn't inhale, either.

His exact words were: "I'm 39 years old.  Yes, of course I tried it before, obviously."

Obviously.  He said it as if he meant most people in his age group will have smoked the stuff at one time or another.  And, of course, it's true: I've smoked it; you've smoked it; cabinet ministers smoked it; anyone who grew up in the '60s or '70s smoked it.  Whether we liked it or not is another question.  But it would be easier to find middle-aged Canadians who haven't smoked it at least once.

Some of us have even grown a bit of the stuff ( although in my case, it was involuntary - marijuana, courtesy of a previous owner, competed with thistles for dominance in the barnyard of a small farm we once owned.  When a five-foot plant grew up between the front tires of an old tractor, we finally recognized it and realized our farm literally had gone to pot.  The horses, however, seemed to love it.  )

Some Canadians with serious illnesses are permitted to use marijuana as medication, although not without a great deal of difficulty purchasing it.

And so what? Marijuana hasn't changed, but our attitudes toward it over the decades have certainly moderated.  In the 1930s, it was considered evil, but now, it's just another means of relaxation along with beer, white wine and martinis.  Some parents are even finding themselves in the awkward position of having to conceal marijuana use from their children, rather than let them see their role models breaking the law.  ( Schools, of course, teach kids that marijuana is even more evil than cigarettes and the start of the slippery slope to drug addiction.  )

So it was not exactly a shock to find out last week, after Britain announced it will decriminalize marijuana possession, that the minister responsible for law enforcement in Canada has broken the law and is thinking of changing it.

Cauchon and Prime Minister Jean Chretien both hinted last week that the decriminalization of marijuana use could happen here in the near future, too, although only last year the PM said it wasn't on the government's agenda.

Cauchon made it clear such action would have to wait for both Senate and House of Commons reports due later this year before any decision to yank simple possession of marijuana out of the Criminal Code and make it an offence punishable by a fine.  There have been some signs the Commons committee is feeling positive about decriminalization.  Even committee member Randy White, a Canadian Alliance MP who travelled to Amsterdam to observe a marijuana-tolerant society, said he visited a pot cafe and had a good time chatting with its clients.  ( He didn't try it himself, but let's face it, a pot cafe is liable to have a real problem with second-hand smoke.  )

After much hemming and hawing, this time the marijuana law appears to finally be on the government's agenda.

Stumbling Block

There's only one big stumbling block - America and its never-ending war on drugs.  They're mad at us already for allowing medicinal pot use and they'll be furious at decriminalization.

"We have great respect for Canada and Britain as well, and if they start shifting policies with regards to marijuana it simply increases the rumblings in this country that we ought to re-examine our policy," said Drug Enforcement Administration head Asa Hutchinson last week.  "It is a distraction from a firm policy on drug use."

Only last month, the U.S.  Court of Appeals upheld marijuana as a dangerous drug with a high potential for abuse.  The court ruled marijuana should remain classified as a Schedule 1 drug, the most restrictive classification under the U.S.  Controlled Substances Act.

I hope we don't give in to the U.S.  attitude, but if it were up to me, I'd go even further than our government apparently intends to.  I'd do more than decriminalize the stuff.  I'd make it legal to own and to grow.  I'd tax the heck out of it and put it on the shelf at the LCBO next to the vodka.

At a single stroke, you'd be doing away with a source of income for organized crime and creating a useful agricultural crop that heaven only knows is easy to cultivate in southern Ontario.

You'd be able to tell police to stop wasting time and money flying around the countryside spotting pot crops in the midst of corn fields from a helicopter and go do some useful work - like putting patrol cars on the 401 in significant numbers, for example.

You'd be freeing young Canadians from the possibility of obtaining a criminal record that will prevent them from leaving the country and could hang over their lives forever.

There are a lot of issues that are way more important than marijuana in Canada today.  But this is one issue we can do something about.  Over the years, we've discussed it almost to death.  It's time to stop talking about it and go ahead. 

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