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UN police chief warns against legalized pot

By Hempology | September 25, 2002

From the Globe And Mail, September 24, 2002

By Tu Thanh Ha

Canadian policians will be making a major error if they try to legalize cannabis, the head of the
United Nations drug control agency warned yesterday.

While marijuana does not have the same association with violent crime and severe dependency as
harder narcotics, it remains a health hazard and its prohibition is needed in the global effort
against drugs and criminality, said Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the UN Office for
Drug Control and Crime Prevention.

“Some of our countries are on the verge of making an error which is as significant as when tobacco
spread,” Mr. Costa said in an interview.

He said legalization would violate a 1998 UN convention against illicit traffic in narcotics and
psychotropic substances. Canada is a signatory to that accord.

Today’s pot more potent, forum told

“Just because something can be legalized, it does not become good per se,” Mr. Costa said.

Western countries are sending a bad message to other countries by being lax against softer drugs,
he warned. “The drug scene cannot be parcelled out to individual countries. The drug scene has to
be seen in its totality.”

He added: “I’ve heard very negative comments from developing countries, saying, ‘We are maintaining
a very strong policy of prohibition and what’s happening? It’s considered with leniency by some
northern countries.’”

Marijuana is harmful to its users, he said, because today’s cannabis is of much higher potency than
the varieties lawmakers might recall from their youth.

In the 1960s, marijuana might have THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient) levels of
about 2.5 per cent. Current varieties have THC levels as high as 35 per cent.

“You have varieties from Albania and Morocco which have created attributes to marijuana which
are as bad as some of the hardest drugs.”

While he acknowledged that pot smokers do not all end up as junkies, “our experts tell us of the linkage
whereby the vast majority of those taking heavy drugs started with soft drugs.”

Mr. Costa was in Montreal for the World Forum on Drugs and Dependencides, which has drawn 3,000

Earlier this month, a Senate committee recommended that it be made legal for any Canadian over the
age of 16.

Federal Justice Minister Martin Cauchon has suggested that he favours decriminalizing simple marijuana
use and making possession of the drug punishable by a fine.

Mr. Cauchon, who attended the conference, conceded yesterday that international conventions to
which Canada subscribes would make legalization difficult.

“We have to make sure as government that whatever will take place in the future, we have to respect
those commitments,” he said.

With a report from Canadian Press

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