Say Goodbye To Just Say No

Say Goodbye To Just Say No
Posted by CN Staff on October 12, 2003 at 21:39:14 PT
By Simon Potter
Source: Time Magazine 
A quarter-century ago, the canadian bar association (C.B.A.) resolved to support the decriminalization of simple possession and cultivation of cannabis for an adult’s own use. It also supported decriminalizing the nonprofit transfer of small amounts of cannabis between adult users. The C.B.A. therefore welcomed federal Justice Minister Martin Cauchon’s proposal in Bill C-38, introduced last May, to move toward a more rational approach to the offense of simple possession of cannabis. C.B.A. members’ initial reaction was that this part of the bill represented a positive shift in direction. And last week the Ontario Court of Appeal declared parts of the very restrictive regulations governing access to medical cannabis unconstitutional.
The result will probably be increased access to cannabis for medical purposes. Yet these generally positive steps will inevitably meet opposition, largely because of the sensationalism and heavy-handed reliance on the criminal law that have too often been the mark of Canada’s drug policies. The proposed changes have been criticized at home by the Canadian Alliance and abroad by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Office of National Drug Control Policy, whose director charged last week that Canada’s drug policies were going in the wrong direction. “It’s the only country in this hemisphere that’s become a major drug producer instead of reducing its drug production,” he said.Our current laws have not stopped people from using marijuana. What these laws have done is greatly expand the profits of criminal and even terrorist organizations, promote a violent black-market trade and waste the time and limited resources of police, prosecutors and the justice system. They have made the drug use that does occur more dangerous. Governments have relied on simplistic “just say no” messages to deal with the complex nature of drug use in our society. They have distracted us from the central issue—why some individuals use drugs in a way that causes harm to them and to the communities around them. In short, the existing approach has been unnecessary, expensive, ineffectual and counterproductive.Criminal law is a blunt instrument, inappropriate for dealing with many of the subtleties of a complex society. The Canadian government’s own statement of criminal-justice policy recognizes this. The Criminal Law in Canadian Society, released in 1982 when Jean Chrétien was Minister of Justice, stressed that the criminal law was an instrument of last resort, to be used only when other means of social control were inadequate or inappropriate. Yet successive federal governments have chosen to ignore this policy when it came to drugs.Canadians recognize that using more of the criminal law cannot address the presence of a wide variety of psychoactive substances in our society. In 2000 the Justice Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank committed to reducing society’s reliance on incarceration, concluded that the U.S. imprisons more individuals for drug offenses than the entire European Union does for all offenses. Yet U.S. rates of illegal-drug use remain higher than those in many other countries, and cannabis is among the U.S.’s most significant crops in dollar value. We cannot arrest our way out of the drug problem.Law enforcement’s present approach absorbs public resources that are badly needed elsewhere. It means that the chances of being prosecuted for drug use vary with geography, and it leads to young offenders being tried and possibly imprisoned at great public expense. Applying the criminal law to minor drug problems has led to measures that threaten important constitutional rights, including the right to be free from unreasonable search or seizure.Any change of policy in Canada should be viewed in an international context. Eleven U.S. states decriminalized cannabis possession in the 1970s. Several Australian states followed suit. Many European countries have shifted away from criminal prohibition of possession of cannabis and other drugs. It is time for Canada to look to other models for deterring problematic drug use; jail-enforced prohibition has proved to be both expensive and counterproductive.Cauchon’s cannabis-law-reform bill, which was handed to a special parliamentary committee last week, gives us the chance to hold a much needed debate on how to react to the use of cannabis in Canadian society—as well as that of many other drugs, legal and illegal. Drug policy cries out for a rational discussion, free of the inflammatory rhetoric that has impeded sensible reform.Note: The drug laws have been ineffective and counterproductive. So change them.Source: Time Magazine (Canada)Author: Simon PotterPublished: October 20, 2003Copyright: 2003 Time Inc. Contact letters time.comWebsite: Articles & Web Site:Cannabis News Canadian Links Limits for Possession May Be Cut To Speed Bill Easing Pot Laws Move To Fast-Track Marijuana Bill 
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