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Pot Smokers Gain Senate Backers

By Hempology | May 3, 2002


Friday, May 3rd, 2002

Scientific Evidence That Marijuana Leads to Use of Hard Drugs Lacking, Panel Says

OTTAWA – Canadian pot smokers have found new political allies in the stodgy Senate.

Some members of the chamber of sober second thought say there is no proof marijuana leads to the use of other drugs.

The Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs released a discussion paper
yesterday on marijuana that states there is no scientific evidence that
cannabis leads users to harder narcotics.

“It may be appropriate to treat it more like alcohol or tobacco than like
the harder drugs,” said Senator Pierre Claude Nolin, chairman of the
special committee.

But Mr. Nolin said it is too early to know whether the committee, in its
final report to be completed by August, will recommend decriminalizing
marijuana. “We’re questioning prohibition as an effective way or policy to
control a substance.”

Two years ago, the five-member committee embarked on its review of antidrug
legislation and policies.  It has heard from 80 witnesses, including the
Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, the Canadian Police Association and
public-health experts.

“We know it’s an important question,” Mr.  Nolin said. “Almost all Canadians
have an opinion on drugs.”

Mr. Nolin said the committee heard many times from those who believe
decriminalizing marijuana is morally wrong.  “Moral is not exactly the kind
of scientific evidence we’re looking for,” he said.

The senators’ discussion paper on cannabis found that most recreational
users smoke marijuana “only temporarily and irregularly,” with 10 per cent
becoming “chronic users” and 5 to 10 per cent becoming addicted. The report
found that marijuana is not a “gateway” to getting hooked on harder drugs.

“There is no convincing evidence to establish the gateway hypothesis,” the
discussion paper states. “Data from population surveys show that out of 100
cannabis users in adolescence, about 10 will become regular users and five
will move to using other drugs.”

Senator Tommy Banks said that one concern of the committee members is the
cost of enforcement in criminal cases involving marijuana.

The committee reports that 30,000 people are charged with simple cannabis
possession each year.

“Marijuana is perhaps the least harmful ‘drug,’ ” Mr.  Banks said.

The committee will travel to six cities across Canada, including Montreal,
Regina and Richmond, B.C, in May and June for town-hall meetings on the issue.

Last week, the Liberal government effectively blocked a private member’s
bill introduced by Canadian Alliance MP Keith Martin to decriminalize
possession of small quantities of marijuana. Dr. Martin said the Senate
committee’s study will not result in any significant changes.

“This problem goes around and around in circles,” he said.  “For the Senate
to study it again is a waste of time, money and the House resources. They
just need to act instead of studying things ad nauseum.”

Marc Emery, president of the B.C. Marijuana Party in Vancouver, welcomed
the committee’s findings but said he doubts they will result in any change
in drug laws.

“They’re giving everyone a fair shake because they don’t have a political
stake,” he said. “But the Prime Minister’s Office won’t have anything to do
with it.”

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