A Hazy Approach To Pot Law

A Hazy Approach To Pot Law
Posted by CN Staff on December 23, 2003 at 06:24:51 PT
By James Travers
Source: Toronto Star 
Early in the movie Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino's very dark 1994 comedy, John Travolta, playing the slow-witted hit-man Vincent Vega, offers a wonderfully ambiguous interpretation of Dutch soft-drug law that Paul Martin should commit to memory.Asked about smoking dope in Amsterdam's famous hash cafés, Vega tells his fellow thug, "It's legal, but it ain't 100 per cent legal."
Fast-forward to the threshold of 2004 and Travolta could just as easily be talking about the ambiguity, if not the detail, of Canada's enlightened, but not 100 per cent enlightened, approach to the recreational use of the devil's weed. Sometime in the first months of next year, the federal government will again introduce legislation taking the criminality out of simple possession but promising fire and brimstone for those who grow or peddle it for profit.In other words, or just to play with Travolta's words, it will be sort of okay to smoke it, but it won't be at all okay to match supply to demand.Now it's just possible the Supreme Court will add badly needed clear thinking and guidance today when it rules on three watershed cases.Together they challenge the constitutionality of marijuana laws that the plaintiffs argue impose unduly harsh penalties on a widespread practice that does little harm.Even if those laws are upheld, Martin is committed to new legislation that will uphold the spirit of a bill that died last month when one Liberal administration grudgingly succeeded another.Following Martin's increasingly familiar something-for-everyone formula, it will remove the stigma of a criminal record for those caught passing a joint even as it targets the so-called grow-ops and major marketers.If that seems like hypocrisy, it is at least shared hypocrisy.Across much of Europe, and even in a few progressive states south of the border, the preferred soft drug strategy is to dismiss usage as a misdemeanour while falling back on muscular and patently ineffectual practices to control supply.For Martin, that's a case of policy intersecting with personal experience. As he joked in year-end interviews, sometime long ago he ate some strange-tasting brownies baked by wife Sheila, but, like so many politicians, never inhaled any of that sweet smelling smoke.So if Martin were starring in Pulp Fiction rather than the federal Liberal's long-running movie, he would be able to say with a straight face that, under the proposed federal law, eating those brownies would be legal, but not 100 per cent legal. As for the still anonymous suppliers of Sheila's hash, well, they could find themselves facing the full, uncompromising wrath of the justice system.That's silly for many reasons. Focusing on a narrow part of a wildly exaggerated social problem makes about as much sense as claims that tougher penalties will take the bloom off a booming underground business. What's far more likely is that demand will increase along with criminal control over production and delivery, making policing more difficult and dangerous for law enforcement agencies with limited resources and, presumably, more pressing priorities.A more radical approach would be to set a more direct course toward the greatest public interest and then design policies with a reasonable chance of getting there. Surely that would include breaking the connection between gangs and drugs as well as enacting legislation that reflects modern norms, not statutes that further distance politicians and police from otherwise law-abiding citizens.In a more perfect world, more innovative law would separate drugs that addict and kill from those that do not. They would regulate rather than prohibit and they would recognize the legitimate concern that what society doesn't need is a new, hard-to-detect group of impaired, if happy, folks.It's instructive that one of today's Supreme Court rulings directly touches those issues.Arguing his own case, a rarity in such an august legal setting, David Malmo-Levine focuses on how best to manage the practical problems associated with a substance that is arguably a lesser threat than alcohol.Malmo-Levine's Harm Reduction Club sold only organic marijuana to those who read a safe-smoking guide and promised not to drive or operate heavy equipment.Naive as that seems, is it any more so than the expectation that the proposed federal legislation will change behaviour or put more pushers behind bars? Barring a revolutionary court finding that marijuana does too little harm to be criminalized at all, the law Canada will adopt next year will be all about political pragmatism. It will carefully weigh public opinion as well as police pressure in taking a very tentative half- step in the right direction.To paraphrase Vincent Vega, that won't be bad public policy, it just won't be 100 per cent good public policy. Note: Barring a revolutionary court finding, the marijuana law we'll adopt next year will be a half step in the right direction.James Travers is a national affairs writer. His column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)Author: James TraversPublished: December 23, 2003Copyright: 2003 The Toronto Star Contact: lettertoed Website: Related Articles & Web Site:Cannabis News Canadian Links Court Set To Rule on Minor Pot Possession Ruling Expected Tuesday Court Will Rule Tuesday
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Comment #5 posted by Virgil on December 23, 2003 at 07:06:52 PT
Is this the link
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Comment #4 posted by Virgil on December 23, 2003 at 06:53:30 PT
The chat room
Does anyone want to go to the chatroom- ?
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Comment #3 posted by BGreen on December 23, 2003 at 06:53:09 PT
Hey, Y'All!
Well, here it goes.The Reverend Bud Green
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Comment #2 posted by FoM on December 23, 2003 at 06:37:31 PT
I'm here with bells and whistles on and lots and lots of coffee! LOL! Keeping my fingers crossed too!
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Comment #1 posted by Virgil on December 23, 2003 at 06:35:00 PT
Link at DU to announcement
Here is the thread at DU reminding people of the ruling- you made it up FoM. You would think CBC and BBC would cover this.5 minutes
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