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Senate recommendations put police, pot advocates at odds

By Hempology | September 23, 2002

From the Victoria News, September 18th, 2002

By Don Descoteau

Marijuana advocates in the Capital Region are delighted with a Senate committee’s recommendations to call off the
drug war against marijuana, but not area police are less than thrilled with the liberal attitude the Senate has
taken towards the drug.

The 600-page Senate report, which among other things suggests granting amnesty to anyone convicted of simple
possession of pot and creating easier acc4ess to marijuana for medicinal purposes, hasn’t exactly been applauded
by Victoria police officers.

They’re the poeple who must deal not only with the bad judgement of “compassion club” members who allegedly re-sell
pot bought for medicinal purposes, but the fallout from the drug trade on the street.

“It’s just the opinion of a bunch of senators,” offers Sgt. Keith Lewis, who taught anti-drug and alcohol programs
at local schools for three years.

“When the legislation changes we’ll react to that,” he says. “In the meantime, if you look at the amount of
policing that’s been targeted to simple possession, it’s far less these days. But there’s an increased attention
paid to grow-ops and to the people who actually deal.”

In situations where trafficking appears to be occuring, Lewis says, the policy will remain straightforward.

“We don’t care where you got it, if you’ve got it, you’re going to get charged.”

Specifically in the case of the Cannabis Buyer’s Club, one of two compassion clubs in Victoria, most of the police
raids on its store have followed the arrest for trafficking of club members who allegedly used legitimate doctor’s
permission slips to purchase pot, then turned around and re-sold the stuff street.

While those who run the compassion clubs have claimed blanket seizures of club supplies hurt the people who need
them the most, Lewis says the police do use their judgment when dealing with club activities.

“Nothing’s changed for us, we try to enforce the laws and we use discretion,” he says. “The world’s not black
and white. We exercise discretion every day.”

Philippe Lucas, who heads up the Vancouver Island Compassion Society, sees the Senate recommendations as “another
step along the way” towards decriminalization of marijuana.

He admits it may take some time for any of the suggestions to be acted upon, if ever, but says it’s about time some
accurate research information was released to the public.

Lucas points to numbers in the Senate report that found marijuana-related charges amounted to 70 per cent of
total drug arrests accross the country in 1999, 45 per cent of which were for simple possession. Not only are
valuable police resources being tied up, he says, the costs of “dragging 100 people a day into court” for such
charges is immense.

University of Victoria political scientist Normann Ruff says it’s hard to say just where the Senate recommendations
will lead.

“There does seem to be some movement, but it’s very slow,” he says of efforts to legalize pot. “But at least it’s
on the (government) agenda.”

In recent weeks, many people have argued that federal Health Minister Anne McLellan’s reluctance to take strong
action on medical marijuana access problems, and on addressing legalization in general, comes from a fear of the
strong anti-drug lobby in the U.S.

“I hope that’s not the case,” Lucas says of the American influence. “If we continue to arrest and incarcerate
Canadians in order to appease the U.S., then we truly have sacrificed our identity.”

Ruff says there’s a soverignty issue at stake when it comes to the Canadian government’s views on marijuana.
But despite the American government’s continuing “Reefer Madness” mentality on marijuane usage, he says it’s not
as simple as just saying as a country, “we’re going to do what we feel is right and the rest of you be damned”.

“The bottom line with all these kind of arguments is we are part of North America,” Ruff says. “There has to be
a major consideration of the American reaction if we were to go this route (legalization).”

While debates about the medical, social and ethical implications of legalizing pot are being waged in both
countries – some U.S. states have, in fact, made simple possession a non-criminal offence – such issues as pot
users crossing into the U.S. would present interesting challenges, he says.

When asked whether he agrees with the notion that marijuana is a “gateway drug” that leads to more destructive
habits, Lewis says it certainly doesn’t lead to the use of harder drugs for everyone. But he said it does act as
a gateway for some.

“I think that’s what’s meant by gateway; that’s the door, now you’re in there,” he says.

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