“Don’t start to smoke yet,” chastised Prime Minister Chretien, speaking at a fundraiser where he announced plans to decriminalize marijuana by June, 2003.
Who knows? Perhaps a few of the loudly applauding attendees rifled through their pockets for cigar-sized celebratory joints, but the Prime Minister’s warning rang with a deeper irony, coming as it does on the eve of the Caine/Clay/Malmo-Levine Supreme Court case, the most potent constitutional challenge to Canada’s marijuana laws ever.
Last December, 2002, three days before the Caine/Clay/Malmo-Levine case was poised to smash prohibition forever, Justice Minister Cauchon promised to introduce legislation decriminalizing cannabis possession in the early months of 2003. Cauchon’s promise never materialized, but the court case that could have torn up Canada’s pot laws was put on hold until early May 2003.
In the meantime, frustrated judges across the country began ruling marijuana laws unconstitutional. In March, 2003, in the wake of a flurry of pro-pot rulings, Cauchon again promised decriminalization, this time by the Summer, fueling speculation that he may be up to his old tricks, trying to delay the Caine/Clay/Malmo-Levine case yet again.
That’s why, now that Chretien is also promising decrim, many pot activists find the routine less convincing than a street dealer trying to sell a bag of catnip for 50 bucks. A disastrous history of broken promises doesn’t make the catnip smell any closer to the real thing.
Let’s take a ride in the time machine way back to 1970, when Health Minister John Munroe promises that he will end jail terms for marijuana possession, and then backpedals embarrassingly the very next day. Moving forward a couple years to 1972, we find Canada’s Le Dain Commission advising the government to reform drug laws, and this time Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau himself guarantees more enlightened laws, a confident assurance that he will repeat in 1980 – with the backing of Justice Minister Jean Chretien – and again in 1981, without ever making good on a single word. No wonder the word “politics” is considered synonymous with “BS” in so many circles.
Even if Chretien makes good on his most recent promise, you may want to head his warning not to start smoking yet – at least in public. Justice Department spokesman Patrick Charette has announced that any new laws will be carefully crafted with the help of US authorities, throwing hopes for truly compassionate decriminalization laws almost totally out the window. Will decrim mean that you get a $1000 fine for a roach in the park? Or maybe a hundred lashes with the antenna some cop just broke off the hood of your car?
For his part, Chretien admitted that lightening up on possession charges will be coupled with even harsher oppression of traffickers and growers. Remember, this is the same Liberal Government that pushed through Canada’s current drug law, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which was praised widely by the Canadian mainstream press as a “softer law”, but which in reality gave cops the power to seize the homes of growers, entrap suspects, and put cannaphiles in courts without juries.
Still, there are small victories. The Supreme Court of Canada has announced that there will be no further delays for the Caine/Clay/Malmo-Levine case, and perhaps drug-war weary judges will succeed where politicians have failed ? in ending the persecution of innocent people and plants that just want to get together and have a good time.
– For the full scoop on possible changes to Canada’s drug laws, read the next issue of Cannabis Culture Magazine.