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Letter from Senator Pierre Claude-Nolin

By Hempology | November 7, 2002

Published in the Parksville-Quallicum News, October 26th, 2002

By Sen. Pierre Claude-Nolin

The response to the report of the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs has, in many ways, been just what we hoped for: informed discussion, debate and dialogue.

Indeed, let’s keep it up. However, as I participate in radio and TV shows, read letters to the editors, editorials and columnists, it has become clear that some of what the committee said in our report either was not heard or has been misunderstood.

First, we do not endorse recreational drug use of any kind. We would prefer to see a drug-free society just as we would love to see world peace, but we are realistic enough to know that we will not likely see it in our lifetime.

The premise of our report is that in a free society such as ours, citizens should have the right to make their own informed decision on their own behaviour as long as it does not inordinately harm others. And we found that cannabis falls into that category. It is less harmful to individuals and to others than tobacco or alcohol, so let’s treat is in a similar way. Certainly, we found no good reason for Canadians to have a criminal record for personal recreational use of marijuana.

There has also been a lot of controversy around our report regarding a legal limit of age 16. The Committee recommended an age limit for legal consumption at 16 as an absolute minimum age based on the scientific findings that the human brain is developed enough by then not to be physically harmed. In other words, we recommend that the authorities not legalize cannabis for use below the age of 16. Appropriate authorities may well have good reason to determine that another age above 16 would be best. That is why we want the key federal and provincial players to initiate meeting with other health and community stakeholders to determine an acceptable age, among many other issues.

A lot has been said about messages being sent. Before we send messages, we should have an intelligent debate about what the messages should be. One political leader even said he would prefer his children consume alcohol rather than smoke cannabis.

Wrong message. Again, this report is not about comparing the merits of cannabis to other substances, but about whether otherwise law-abiding Canadians should be persecuted, prosecuted and penalized by the criminal justice system for consuming a substance proven to be relatively benign. We believe that education, treatment and prevention are the ways to deal with any problems use of tobacco, alcohol or cannabis may cause, not prohibition and criminalization. So if you are working to keep your kids from taking drugs, there is much in our report to help you.

Just as disturbing have been the attacks dismissing our report from some of the organizations that represent the police community. Yet, we considered their advice carefully. We simply don’t completely agree with them. At the same time, our report addresses specific issues raised by the police such as calling for a national drug policy, national advisor and effective research coordination, and recommending that the legal blood alcohol level be reduced to .04 from .08 when in the presence of cannabis.

Finally, there is the ridiculous notion that the conclusions of our report in some way promote or advance criminal activity or support terrorism. Currently, organized crime enjoys vast profits from the sale of illicit drugs. Legalization takes the production and distribution of cannabis products out of the hands of organized crime. Profits would go to shareholders, not terrorists or gang members. Perhaps most important of all, buyers would not be purchasing the produce from someone who is also selling crack cocaine or heroine. If there is any “gateway effect” that can be attributed to cannabis, it’s the fact that buyers, especially young people, are exposed to these dealers who stand to gain far more from pushing much more highly addictive substances on their customers than they do from selling cannabis.

We think Canadians are quite capable of making a wise choice with respect to cannabis policy. It is quite clear that they are more than willing to debate the issue. I hope our report continues to provide the information and ideas to help Canada to a new policy of healing and dignity, rather the degradation and despair created by our current prohibitionist policy.

Sen. Pierre-Claude Nolin chaired the Senate’s Special Committee on Illegal Drugs. Its report, Cannabis: Our position for a Canadian public policy, can be found at

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