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Doing the right thing, finally

By Hempology | May 28, 2003

From the Times Colonist, May 28, 2003

“A Closer Look” By Jody Paterson

They say that everyone commits at least one crime in their life.

Canada’s marijuana laws alone must have gone a long way to making that true: Hundreds
of thousands of Canadians, maybe even millions, have probably sampled the plant at some

So while an government rightly needs to be careful with drug-policy changes for fear
of sending the wrong message, there comes a point when continuing to criminalize an
activity that hordes of otherwsie law-abiding citizens are engaging in just starts to
look a bit ridiculous.

That point came some time ago in Canada, but it took until Tuesday for Ottawa to finally
do the right thing and deciminalize marijuana possession. Being caught with 15 grams
or less of marijuana will now carry a punishment roughly comparable to being ticketed
for a driving offence – still a nuisance for those who think it’s nobody’s damn business
what plants they ingest, but a considerable improvement over a criminal record.

The aim of criminal law in a democratic society is obviously to balance out the rights
of the individual. One person’s right to live life as he chooses can’t outweigh another’s
right to safety and security, and laws are the means of governing those who refuse to
grasp that.

But including marijuana in our Criminal Code was a mistake from the start.

Where is the evidence of marijuana-related behaviours wreaking havoc on the
collective? Where is the rationale for turning personal plant use into a
criminal-justice issue? We have wrung our hands over marijuana for far too long,
especially when so many other truly dangerous drugs out there are more worthy
of such fixation.

That’s not to say that marijuana is harmelss. Smoking any substance increases the risk
of cancer, and the mellow mood that marijuana brings on is a poor fir with school work,
power-point presentations and heavy-equipmnent operation. Like all drugs, marijuana can
be addictive, and tends to be apathy-inducing among those prone to couch-potatoism.

But marijuana doesn’t appear to have the same level of damaging impact on the collective
– or the individual – as other drugs.

It’s nothing like heroin, iwth its many risks of chronic disease and failing health.
It’s not cocaine, with its power to drain brain chemicals and incite a frenzy of use.
Neither is it a mysterious mix of toxins brewed up in a dirty kitchen lab, like
methamphetamine, GHB, ecstasy and LSD.

It also isn’t a violence-inducing, liver-wrecking, soul-destroying drug like alcohol,
which we inexplicably continue to view as a benign teenage rite of passage despite reams
of evicende to the contrary. What could the organizers of a “safe grad” in the Cowichan
Valley possibly have been thinking last week when they invited students to bring either
a mickey of hard liquor to the all-night party or all the wine and beer they wanted?

As federal Health Minister Anne McLellan pointed out this week, “we don’t want young people
to use marijuana.” Now more than ever, youths need honest information on the many drugs
that are out there, and an understanding of the risks.

But that’s a different issue than whether possessing small quantities of the drug should
be a criminal offence. Changing the laws around marijuana possession won’t have much of an
impact on young people anyway, as the vast majority of those charged in B.C. every year
have been adults: In 2001, 89 per cent of the 5,690 people charged with marijuana offences
were over 19.

Tuesday’s changes don’t go far toward righting Canada’s flawed drug policies. The sale
and cultivation of marijuana remain criminal offences, so the alarming involvement of
organized crime in grow operations will continue. Heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine
addictions are still being punished rather than treated, and at a tremendous cost to
taxpayers: A recent study of 70 long-term Canadian users supporting their addiction through
crime pegged the cost of their repeated incarceration at $9.8 million.

Still, the decriminalization of marijuana possession is a start, and welcome evidence
of a government finally paying attention to its people. As decades of fruitless
prohibition have made clear, bad law for good citizens will simply be ignored.

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