By the end of last week, marijuana ended up dominating the political agenda.
First, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police ratified a resolution at its annual meeting in Winnipeg that, if accepted by the federal government (fat chance), would give police officers the option of handing out tickets for simple possession.
The second was Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s (ho-hum) “revelation” that he had smoked pot.
It is no wonder police chiefs have finally had it with the Conservative hard-line on drugs. Since 2006, when Harper took power, simple possession charges have skyrocketed. In 2011, marijuana arrests hit a record high of 78,000, 79 per cent of which were for simple possession accounting for 68 per cent of all drug-related arrests. That is 1.1 simple possession arrests for every single officer in the country.
Furthermore, other statistics show that up to half of those caught with pot, get off with a warning even though, technically, that is not an option for police.
Vince Chu, Vancouver police chief and president of the association suggested as much at a press conference after returning from Winnipeg. He said when officers encounter simple possession their only choices are to throw the book at the suspect or turn a blind eye.
That is not entirely true, at least not in Saskatchewan. The Saskatchewan Ministry of Justice Adult Alternative Measures Policy allows police to divert offenders prior to laying a formal charge. Crown prosecutors may also use alternative measures after a charge is laid. This is a policy that should be used much more frequently when dealing with simple possession.
Still, the chiefs’ stance is pragmatic—ticketing potheads would reduce officers’ workloads, unclog the courts and save untold millions of dollars for an already cash-strapped justice system—but it does not go nearly far enough.
It is a step in the right direction, but I’m not even really sure why the chiefs continue with their intransigent stance against legalization because their reasoning is about as lame as reasoning gets. Chu said they ruled out decriminalization or legalization because, “we do not believe marijuana is good for people.”
Yes, Chief Chu, that is exactly why it should be dealt with through public education and the health policy, not the Criminal Code.
Justice Minister Peter MacKay’s stance is equally lame. He said the government has no intention of softening its stance because of the effects drugs have on users and society.
The consistency with which neo-Cons perpetuate this lie is yet another stunning example of their refusal to embrace reality (more on McKay’s jackassery later).
In the early 1970s the Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs, led by Gerald Le Dain (who would go on to sit on the Supreme Court), looked into the evidence for four years and recommended an end to marijuana prohibition.
“The costs to a significant number of individuals, the majority of whom are young people, and to society generally, of a policy of prohibition of simple possession are not justified by the potential for harm,” the report stated.
Similarly, in 2002 the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs chaired by Pierre Claude Nolin (a Conservative) also studied the evidence and came to the same conclusion recommending not only legalization, but amnesty for those previously convicted.
“We are able to categorically state that, used in moderation, cannabis in itself poses very little danger to users and to society as a whole, but specific types of use represent risks to users,” especially the “tiny minority” of adolescents who are heavy users.”
Furthermore, the senators concluded, marijuana is not a gateway drug, that the true harm to most individuals was the fallout from the accompanying criminal records and that the true harm to society was the associated crime and violence, which is the direct result of prohibition itself.
My reaction to Trudeau’s admission was the same as the millions of other Canadians judging by the social media buzz, “so what?”
Polls show nearly 10 per cent of Canadians use weed in any given year. Those who have tried it at some point in their life hovers near 50 per cent. Even if you haven’t tried it or currently use it, you know plenty of people who have or do. Nearly 1.5 million Canadians now have criminal records for possessing small amounts of this relatively benign substance.
Stephen Harper was wise not to make a big deal out of it although he couldn’t resist taking a dig by saying Trudeau’s actions “speak for themselves.”
I’m sure the Prime Minister didn’t mean what most of the rest of us were thinking that they “speak for themselves” saying Trudeau is basically a normal 40-something Canadian, but even Harper must be starting to realize how out-of-step his party is with public sentiment on this issue.
Blowhard McKay wasn’t nearly as wise as his leader, saying it showed a “profound lack of judgment,” proving once again that no one does hypocrisy and self-entitlement like a neo-Con.
Let’s remember for a moment that this is the guy who, as a cabinet minister, has been under constant scrutiny for using military resources for questionable purposes and lavish travel spending on sometimes dubious “government business.”
I realize politics is a contact sport, but perhaps MacKay should be a little more circumspect when calling the kettle black.
I cannot believe we are still having this debate. Despite decades of evidence that legalization is the right thing to do, no one, not even Jean Chrétien when he basically had carte blanche to do it in 2003, could muster the political will to give up on probably one of the most costly and unnecessary pieces of legislation in Canadian history.
Even the United States, whose policies many people blame for our governments’ reticence to act, is now ahead of us. Two states have already legalized recreational use and indications are eight more will follow suit in the next year.
Sooner or later, legalization is coming to Canada. Last week, we were reminded that the Conservative Party is determined to be on the wrong side of history.