The following is by David Malmo Levine, September 1996
Pacific Press Falls Short of Practice Code and Credo
This is a simple outline of my concern regarding the coverage of Canada’s
new drug law. This law was known as “Bill C-85”, “Bill C-7” and “Bill C-8”
at various times during it’s creation, but now that it is law it is known
as “the controlled drugs and substances act”.
I monitored the Bill’s coverage in all the major media in Canada from the
year 1993 to the present day. While I cannot make the claim to have
captured every news clipping about the bill, I do believe I found most of
them, and most certainly collected all that was recently written about it
in both the Vancouver Sun and the Vancouver Province.
These newspapers, according to the BC press council, have a responsibility
to “defend the freedom of the Press in the interest of the public”. The
above newspapers never once (1) attempted to find justification for the
bill, or (2) investigated the possible consequences of the bill. Therefore,
I feel that the coverage of this bill did not meet the needs of the public,
was not carried out “in the interest of the public” and therefore failed to
meet the code of practice.
As well as these sins of omission, according to the code, newspapers must
“guard against deliberate or careless publication of inaccuracies or
statements designed to mislead”. Both the above newspapers featured
information about the bill (the front page of the Sun and featured
prominently in the Province – page A2, and again in a full page feature
article – please see the supplementary info. and the article I wrote on
page 20 of Cannabis Canada #6 [not yet online. -ed]) that was false and misleading. For this
reason also I feel that the coverage of this bill failed to meet the code
On top of the code of practice, Southam Newspapers has a Publishing Credo
which states that newspapers should “encourage active discussion in their
pages of all aspects of society. Their newspapers should present an
accurate and balanced picture…..they should bring to the public the
widest range of news, information, comment and interpretation, subject only
to general good taste and the laws governing obscenity, slander, libel and
sedition….Freedom of the press is a right of all Canadians, and one that
publishers should preserve and defend.” Due to the sins of omission and
prominent inaccuracies surrounding the new drug law, I feel these
newspapers did not present an “accurate and balanced picture”, and
therefore they failed to live up to their own publishing credo.
I understand that it is the practice of the press council to use a recent
clipping or article to examine public concerns, and I have decided to use
June 14th, 1996 for the Vancouver Sun and May 19, 1996 for the Province,
although much of the criticism could apply to each and every article on the
new drug laws published by these newspapers.
Coverage in the Vancouver Sun
An item in the June 14th, 1996 Vancouver Sun announced the passage of Bill
C-8. It mentioned that “The senators have chickened out on pot – a Senate
committee backed away Thursday from recommending decriminalization for
simple possession of marijuana”.
In a May 18th Van. Sun. article there was ample coverage of some senators
supporting decrim, with the “health approach” reason given.
Nowhere in the June 14th article was a reason given for their “backing
away” from the “health approach”.
If a reporter had asked the obvious question, he or she would have found
out the very newsworthy fact that the Senators didn’t have any reason for
backing away from the health approach.
The senators did give two excuses (in other media): (1) that parliament
wouldn’t accept decriminalization, and that (2) the international treaties
that Canada has signed wouldn’t allow for decriminalization.
Right away these excuses should have been seen to be fraudulent. (1) The
senate is not a rubber stamp for parliament (though it’s admission that it
is a rubber stamp is front-page news in and of itself). (2) Holland and
the US have both signed all the same international treaties that Canada
has, and both countries have experimented with decrim.
If the senators are really pressed by a persistent reporter, they would
tell you that the real reason that they backed away is that the Justice and
Health departments insisted that the opportunity for the “good things”
found within the bill would be lost, if the senators refused to pass the
bill right away “as is”. These “good things” are the formal
decriminalization of the hemp stalk (not the leaves and flowers, but the
The Health and Justice departments fooled the senators – no one was being
charged for possession of hemp stalk – it was a non-issue, a superficial
environmental benefit exchanged for a massive increase of police powers and
repression of the Canadian cannabis community.
Aside from the lack of justification for the bill, the lack of an
examination of consequences for this bill was appalling.
To sum up:
- this new law will allow the police to
- hire people to sell marijuana in “sting” operations
- allow police to arrest everyone found to be in a place specified in a
warrant, even “without probable cause”
- seize homes used for growing pot plants (“fortified drug houses”)
- testify by affidavit to avoid cross examination
- this law will allow the courts to
- deny the accused a jury trial
- continue to allow for a jail sentence, fine and or a criminal record that
will inhibit employment and travel opportunities – for simple possession
- this law will deny doctors the right to prescribe medical marijuana,
even though the same law will permit medical cocaine and heroin
- this law denies the right of farmers to grow productive strains of
regular THC industrial hemp, instead making them dependent on a European
monopoly of less productive low THC seeds, and under the tight regulation
of a new department of farm cops.
The short and long-term consequences of these changes are apparent. The
Canadian Bar Association testified before parliament that the new law would
“result in a significant increase in rates of incarceration and in lengths
of sentences, and will place additional stresses on an already overburdened
criminal justice system”.
This testimony echoes evidence found in other circles, for example an
article by Eric Schlosser in Atlantic Monthly in Sept. of ’94 which pointed
out that “in America today the number of people imprisoned for drug
offenses is the same as the number imprisoned for all crimes twenty years
The drugwar industry is booming. In some US States it’s the #1 growth
industry. Noam Chomsky said that “one effect of the so-called “drug war,”
which has very little to do with controlling drugs and a lot to do with
controlling people, has been to create a huge explosion in the prison
population”. With the Canadian prison industry looking to privatize, one
could easily imagine a world where the 3 million or so Cannabis Canadians
end up as “McPrisoners” – working off their “community service” by flipping
burgers for their corporate McJailers.
The method this privatized “Ministry of Love” scenario could well evolve
without media ever having to lie. For example, the media didn’t lie about
the Holocaust – it was just back page news. (Please read the quote at the
beginning of my article on page 20 of Cannabis Canada # 6, or better yet
see the illustrated version on page 20 of Potshot #11 for evidence of this
Basically, the front cover of every newspaper in Canada should be screaming
“Government plots to imprison 3 million Canadians for pot smoking – without
justification” and the headlines say the opposite, if they say anything
about the bill at all. The logical conclusion to the “drugfree society”
ideology this government is pushing is a universal daily urine examination.
That is big news, but in Canada it’s hidden in the back pages of the Globe
and Mail once – on Sept. 24th, 1994!
The lack of respect for a doctor’s ability to decide if the cannabis herb
could somehow be of benefit to their patients will result in unnecessary
pain and suffering for the many thousands of people who use pot medicinally
(dry spells, jail, street impurities, paranoia etc. etc.) and will deny
many more the opportunity to try a natural alternative to synthetic
medicines – one that they could grow themselves to become more independent.
This bill will also result in unnecessary restrictions on industrial hemp.
The timber industry pollutes our ecosystems with chlorine and dioxins for
bleach, and destroys trees – the lungs of the earth. The cotton industry is
hard on the soil and uses most of the pesticides in agriculture – some of
which destroy the ozone layer. The fossil fuel industry contributes to
global warming (please see Potshot #10, pages 50-64, especially page 51, 58
There is much evidence to support the belief that industrial hemp could
replace all of the above polluting industries – so long as (and this is
vital to understand) there is not a “war on THC”. THC is the plant’s
natural sunscreen and accidental pesticide. On top of burnt, pesticide
strewn hemp crops, growing low THC hemp will hamper the selective breeding
process – it is difficult to simultaneously breed for hi fiber or seed
content, and at the same time breed for low THC. Low THC requirements
creates a synthetic monopoly for low THC seed merchants (at present
exclusively France) and insures a high price for hemp seed, as well as
dependency instead of self sufficiency for Canadian hemp farmers (see
Cannabis Canada #6, page 58).
I need not remind you of the seriousness that the current scientific
community (the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for example)
is placing upon reducing the amount of Ozone depleting chemicals and fossil
fuels released into our atmosphere. The opponents to the Cannabis community
has regarded hemp as a “smoke screen” to the legalization debate. But who
wants to get “high” in an environmental disaster area?
Coverage in the Vancouver Province
The most recent coverage in the Vancouver Province, May 19th, mentioned
that “5 of the 13 committee members favored decriminalizing possession and
the rest were sympathetic.” No reason for favoring decrim. No subsequent
coverage of the Senate “chickening out”. No seeking of justification for
expanded police powers. No mention of expanded police powers. No mention of
the “medical coke and smack but no medical pot” clause. No mention of
restrictions on industrial hemp. None of this in this article – or in any
What should happen now?
I would like to see the newspapers tell the truth with the same space and
energy they previously devoted to the misinformation. I would like to see
the Vancouver Sun print a front page story on increased police powers, a
lack of justification for the bill and the probable social, medical and
environmental consequences of the bill. This front page story should
contain quotes from the Canadian Bar and Medical Associations, both of
which opposed the bill.
The Vancouver Province should do a feature on these issues, as they devoted
at least 9 full page features by Kathy Tate on “the human costs of drug