Canada’s Senate has released a report which recommends that marijuana be completely legalized. The 600-page document comes after two years of studying the issue and interviews with 234 witnesses across Canada and around the world.
“Scientific evidence overwhelmingly indicates that cannabis is substantially less harmful than alcohol, and should be treated not as a criminal issue but as a social and public-health issue,” said the committee’s chair, Senator Pierre Claude Nolin.
The report calls for a system whereby marijuana can be sold in a similar fashion to alcohol and tobacco, except with a lower age limit of 16 years. The federal government would issue licenses for cultivation and sale. The report also calls for Canada’s 600,000 criminal records for pot possession to be erased, and for medical access to be expanded. Other recommendations include having school drug awareness programs no longer being taught by police.
The Senate report was front-page news across Canada, with headlines shouting “Pot should be sold like wine or beer” and “Senators want pot legalized.” Cannabis activists were called upon to comment, with Cannabis Culture publisher Marc Emery doing 20 separate TV, radio and newspaper interviews the day the report was released.
Canada’s Senate is appointed, not elected, and has little political power. The elected Parliament, dominated by the current Liberal government, holds all lawmaking ability. So although the Senate report has great symbolic value, the support of Parliament is needed to make legal changes.
The Senate committee to examine Canada’s marijuana laws came about due to the circumstances surrounding the 1996 passage of Canada’s current drug law, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CC#06, Welcome to the drug war). When Canada’s Parliament was hearing testimony on the proposed new drug laws, almost every group that testified before Parliament opposed the law, and asked for the government to do a comprehensive review of Canada’s national drug policy.
The Liberal government claimed they would undertake a comprehensive review of Canada’s drug policy, once the law was passed. Instead they allowed their special committee to dissolve without making a report, after hearing only a few witnesses (CC#09, Drug fallacy review reviewed).
Disappointed by Parliament’s failure to act, the Senate decided to undertake a drug policy review of their own. Yet once the Senate committee got going and began hearing testimony, the Liberal government announced that they would launch another Parliamentary committee to examine the drug issue again. This second committee has also been hearing testimony, and is expected to release their own report in early 2003.
Alliance MP Randy White, chair of the Parliamentary committee, seemed baffled about the Senate recommendations. He made it clear that his committee would not be making similar proposals. “We have met with witnesses across Canada, the United States and in numerous countries in Europe,” explained White, “and the general consensus is that legalization is not the route to follow.”
For and against
The Senate report was backed, with some reservations, by a number of medical and drug policy groups, including Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba, and the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.
The Canadian Police Association condemned the report. David Griffin, the association’s executive director, called it “a back-to-school gift for drug pushers.” Griffin added that he believes “powerful lobbies” which stand to benefit commercially from legal marijuana are the ones behind the push for legalization.
The US White House also attacked the report’s conclusions. A statement released by John Walters, director of the US Office of National Drug Control Policy, claimed that “marijuana is a harmful drug, particularly for young people. We also know that if you make it more available, you’ll get more marijuana use.”
Canada’s Supreme Court is scheduled to hear constitutional challenges to marijuana prohibition in December. The Senate report will undoubtedly improve the chances of those challenges succeeding.
? For links to the Senate report: www.cannabisculture.com/news/senate