Canada Moves Toward Decriminalizing Marijuana

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by Superjoint, May 29, 2001.

  1. By The Associated Press
    Source: USA Today

    The Friendly Stranger used to be up a narrow stairway in a back room, a crowded little shop offering water pipes, T-shirts and other products of the cannabis - or marijuana - culture. Now proprietor Robin Ellins has a prominent storefront on busy Queen Street and plenty of room to display everything from hempseed oil and chips to a full line of hemp clothing and elaborate smoking accessories.
    The transformation from hidden emporium to thriving commercial venture is part of Canada's slow but clear shift toward decriminalizing marijuana.

    Justice Minister Anne McLellan says the issue should be studied, and a new Parliament committee on drug matters will look at decriminalization. Conservative Party leader Joe Clark is urging the elimination of criminal penalties for possessing a small amount of pot.

    "It's unjust to see someone, because of one decision one night in their youth, carry the stigma - to be barred from studying medicine, law, architecture or other fields where a criminal record could present an obstacle," Clark said last week.

    The government has proposed expanding medicinal use of marijuana, and the Canadian Medical Association Journal recently supported full decriminalization. Canada's Supreme Court will consider a case this year that contends criminal charges for the personal use of marijuana violate constitutional rights.

    Making possession and use of small amounts of marijuana a civil offense - akin to a traffic fine- instead of a criminal violation would move Canadian policy closer to attitudes in The Netherlands and away from the United States, its neighbor and biggest trade partner.

    That worries U.S. anti-drug activists like Robert Maginnis of the Family Research Council. "It will have a residual effect in this country of depressing prices and making marijuana more available," he said.

    He also knows a shift by Canada would boost the arguments of American advocates for easing U.S. drug laws. "We find our allies are piling up on us and making it more difficult" to fight drug use, Maginnis said.

    Joseph A. Califano Jr., president of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, is skeptical about that.

    Califano, a former U.S. secretary of health and human services, said increasing medical evidence on the harm caused by marijuana makes it unlikely that a change in Canadian law will affect U.S. policy. "I don't think it means much," he said.

    Canada already has a legal industry for hemp - cannabis cultivated with very low amounts of the chemical that produces the high sought by marijuana smokers - while the U.S. federal government prohibits hemp production.

    In April, Canadian Health Minister Allan Rock proposed expanding the medicinal use of marijuana beyond cancer sufferers now allowed to take the drug to people with AIDS and other terminal illnesses, severe arthritis, multiple sclerosis, spinal injuries and epilepsy. By contrast, the U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld a federal ban on medical marijuana.

    Some U.S. states allow hemp production and medical use of marijuana, despite the federal bans, noted Bill Zimmerman, executive director of the Campaign for New Drug Policies in California.

    Arrest statistics show the disparity in the two nation's approaches.

    Richard Garlick of the Canadian Center on Substance Abuse said about 25,000 people were arrested in Canada for simple possession of marijuana in 1999.

    The U.S. figure for that year under the "zero tolerance" policy of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration was 24 times higher, exceeding 600,000, says the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in Washington. The U.S. population is about eight times that of Canada's.

    "Thank God, I'm in Canada," said Ellins, a long-haired entrepreneur who gives his age as thirtysomething. "I just can't believe what's going on down there. ... That's a war against people."

    Believing decriminalization was inevitable in socially liberal Canada, he moved his store to a larger, more public setting last year. It's named for the "friendly stranger" cited in 1930s anti-marijuana propaganda as the supplier of "reefer madness."

    Police leave him alone, because the store avoids anything considered drug paraphernalia, he said.

    "Before it was too compact and tucked away," Ellins said. "There's definitely been an increase in business. We're more accessible. We're more in demand."

    Source: USA Today (US)
    Published: May 28, 2001
    Copyright: 2001 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

    Related Articles & Web Site:

    Canadian Medical Association Journal

    Friendly Stranger

    Canadian Links

Share This Page