Source: London Free Press (CN ON) Copyright: 2001 The London Free Press a division of Sun Media Corporation. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: http://www.canoe.ca/LondonFreePress/home.html Pubdate: Tue, 20 Mar 2001 Author: Ian Gillespie, Free Press Columnist Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/clay.htm (Clay, Chris) Ex-Londoner taking pot crusade to top court Chris Clay says our marijuana laws "don't make any sense." He should know. After all, this is the guy who got a government loan to help finance a shop where he sold pot pipes, rolling papers and other paraphernalia. Not only did the Youth Venture program lend him money for his cannabis shop (Clay says a federal official told him the store "looked like it would do well"), but the police helped him out, too. "There was a break-in at my store once," recalls the former Londoner. "The police came and they actually caught the thieves and (the police) returned everything. It was an interesting sight, seeing police carrying all these big (pipes) and putting them back on the shelf." It's been almost six years since police raided Clay's Hemp Nation store on Richmond Street, shortly after he started selling tiny marijuana plants to customers. Clay, who was later convicted on trafficking and possession charges, did it because he wanted to change Canada's marijuana laws. Now, it looks like he'll get his chance. Last week, the Supreme Court of Canada agreed to hear three test cases that could result in the decriminalization of marijuana. One of those cases, which should be heard early next year, belongs to Clay. The 30-year-old London native, who moved to B.C. three years ago and now runs a Web design company in Victoria, is an unlikely activist. A soft-spoken father who doesn't pretend pot will solve the world's problems, Clay says he now tokes about once a month. And he doesn't think teenagers should be allowed to smoke pot until they're 18 or 19 years old. "It's illegal now, but a lot of teenagers smoke it anyway," he says. "So if they're going to do it, we can at least teach them to do it sensibly." Sensible is a word, however, that seems missing from this law. It's a law that, according to the Addiction Research Foundation, more than a quarter of Canadians admit to having broken. It's a law that has saddled more than 600,000 Canadians with criminal records that restrict their careers and travel. It's a law that, back in 1972, Canada's LeDain commission concluded should be phased out, and marijuana decriminalized. And it's a substance many observers, including most of the lower court judges who ruled on the three cases, conclude is relatively harmless -- apart from chronic use, which may lead to bronchitis. "You can still find some police officers who say it's a gateway drug that leads to other drugs, but they're lone voices out there that are saying this," says Clay, who was placed on probation for three years after his 1997 trial. "Most people think it should be decriminalized. Anybody who's looked into the issue at all comes to the same conclusion." But won't decriminalizing pot send the wrong message to young people? "Just because something is legal does not mean society condones it," he says. "Potato chips are legal and they're bad for you. But that doesn't mean society condones or promotes the use of junk food." Clay would like to see marijuana decriminalized, regulated and taxed. That would create revenue for the government, pull profits away from the black market and organized crime, and remove the stain of a criminal record from hundreds of thousands of otherwise law-abiding Canadians. Of course, Clay isn't overly optimistic. He has a 30-year-old newspaper clipping advocating the same things. "This should've been done long before I was born," he says. "And now, my son is growing up and it's still illegal. I certainly hope that someday he doesn't get a criminal record from smoking a joint. It's ridiculous."