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Decriminalizing Marijuana - Canada Gets Serious

May 24, 2001

Canada's MPs Get Serious About Decriminalizing Marijuana

Former Prime Minister, Present Justice Minister Support Law Change; Nearly Half of Canadians Say Pot Should Be Legal

Ottawa, Ontario: Former Prime Minister and Conservative Party (Tory) leader Joe Clark (Quebec City) has thrown his support behind the growing political movement to remove criminal penalties for the use and possession of marijuana. Clark's decision comes one week after the House of Commons unanimously voted to assemble a special committee to review Canada's marijuana laws, and Justice Minister Anne McLellan said that it was "absolutely" time for Parliament to reconsider the ban on marijuana. Health Minister Allan Rock also recently spoke out in favor of reform, stating that he would "participate with enthusiasm" in the upcoming hearings and that it was "appropriate" to examine decriminalizing marijuana.

Parliament undertook a similar inquiry in 1972, resulting in the LeDain Commission report which recommended they "repeal the prohibition against the simple possession of cannabis."

Although Parliament ignored their findings, public opinion polls show that support for legalizing marijuana has almost doubled since then. Approximately half of Canadians now say they favor marijuana legalization up from 26 percent in 1975, according to a national survey released Monday by Ottawa's University of Lethbridge. More than 1,700 respondents participated in the poll.

NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup said that public and political sentiment is strongly skewed toward changing the law. "Canada appears poised to finally decriminalize marijuana, a move that will have an enormous impact on our own country's emerging drug policy debate," he said. "We share a common border, culture and language. Elected officials here will not be able to disregard and misrepresent the Canadian experience as they have done with the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe where criminal marijuana prohibition has been lifted. Once Canada stops arresting responsible marijuana smokers, it will become increasingly difficult for the U.S. to defend our own misguided policies."

Conservative leader Clark said Tuesday that he supported decriminalization because pot offenders must no longer be saddled with criminal records. "I believe the least controversial approach is decriminalization because it's unjust to see someone carry the stigma to be barred from studying medicine, law, architecture or other fields where a criminal conviction could present an obstacle," he said. "My opinion is not necessarily shared by all members of my party, but it's the sort of approach we will favor."

According to Monday's poll, three in 10 Conservative party supporters support liberalizing marijuana laws, compared with half of Liberal and Alliance party supporters. More than 60 percent of Bloc Quebecois and New Democrats back legalization, a position included in their party's political platforms.

Although marijuana remains criminally prohibited in Canada, the law is enforced far less stringently than in the United States. Justice statistics indicate that approximately 30,000 Canadians are arrested for marijuana violations annually, compared with more than 700,000 in the U.S. Earlier this year, Health Canada proposed regulations legalizing the drug for medical purposes. That plan is expected to take effect by July. In addition, Canada's top court is scheduled to consider later this year whether the laws prohibiting the possession and cultivation of marijuana are constitutional.

Last week, editors at the prestigious Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) urged lawmakers to decriminalize marijuana, a position that is also advocated by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.

For more information, please contact either Keith Stroup, NORML Executive Director, or Paul Armentano at (202) 483-5500.

Nevada Assembly Backs Fine-Only Penalty for Marijuana, Medi-Pot Plan

Carson City, NV: Assembly lawmakers overwhelming approved legislation Wednesday reducing marijuana penalties and authorizing its medical use. Nevada's present law which defines the first time possession of even one joint as a felony offense punishable by up to four years in jail is the toughest in the nation.

Legislators voted 30 to 12 in favor of a measure minimizing pot penalties from a felony to a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum $600 fine. Second time offenders would be mandated to undergo drug treatment and face a $1,000 fine. The law change which has been recommended by two state judicial review commissions in the past five years would bring Nevada's marijuana penalties in line with those in the other 49 states.

Assembly Bill 453 also legalizes the use of medical marijuana by patients who have their doctor's approval to use the drug. State voters approved a constitutional amendment legalizing the use of medical marijuana in 1998 and 2000. The bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani (D-Las Vegas), would allow qualified patients to grow up to seven marijuana plants for medical purposes and establish a confidential patient registry. Because the proposal only exempts patients who use marijuana medically from state prosecution and does not legalize distribution of the drug, it appears unthreatened by the U.S. Supreme Court's recent ruling.

"This implements the will of the people," Giunchigliani said, adding that she is confident Gov. Kenny Guinn (R) will sign the bill. Medical marijuana "is a states' rights issue which Nevadans hold dear. This proposal is not condoning drug use."

Giunchigliani's proposal now moves to the Senate, which has until June 4 to act on it.

Ends


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