Rock 'Open' To Legal Marijuana

Rock 'Open' To Legal Marijuana
Posted by FoM on August 03, 2001 at 06:40:03 PT
By Mark Kennedy, The Ottawa Citizen
Source: Ottawa Citizen
Health Minister Allan Rock says he has an "open mind" on calls to decriminalize marijuana and welcomes an upcoming review of the contentious matter by a Commons committee. Mr. Rock made the comments yesterday after he toured an underground mine in Flin Flon, Man., where the first official crop of government-sanctioned marijuana is being grown. The marijuana will be made available to sick Canadians who are granted government approval to smoke it for the alleviation of pain and the debilitating symptoms of various diseases. 
Mr. Rock said Canada's medical marijuana policy -- which is far more liberal than other countries such as the United States -- is based on "compassionate" grounds and he predicted it will eventually be matched by other nations around the world. "I'm absolutely convinced we've made the right choice, we're on the right path. And we're going to improve the lives of many people." Moreover, he didn't shy away from questions over whether this country should take an even bolder step by decriminalizing -- or even legalizing -- the use of marijuana for all purposes. Mr. Rock noted that members of Parliament decided in May to establish a special committee of MPs that will begin cross-country hearings this fall. "Of course, we will pay close attention to whatever they recommend," said Mr. Rock. "I think it's a question worth examining." The committee is expected to review whether Canada's legal approach to marijuana possession should remain unchanged, whether the drug should be entirely legalized, or whether it should be decriminalized -- a compromise that would ensure the use of marijuana remains illegal but that the penalties would be less severe. "They might look at that option, they might look at other options," said Mr. Rock. "I don't know. And I've got to tell you -- I've got an open mind." Mr. Rock said that when he was federal justice minister for four years, it was his job as attorney general to pay lawyers "to go into court and prosecute drug cases" -- even though many involved prosecutions against "young kids" who possessed small amounts of marijuana. "The question often arose as to whether that was a good use of dollars, whether it's a good use of the criminal justice system, and whether some other approach might be taken which would reflect society's views, perhaps differently." At the same time, Mr. Rock candidly said that as the father of three teenagers, he worries about the "drug culture" and the "messages we're sending kids and where we draw lines." One possible approach, Mr. Rock suggested, would be to treat possession of marijuana like a traffic offence, in which the offender would be slapped with a ticket and a fine rather than be charged with a criminal offence. "I think there's a lot to think about here. I'm glad that the committee is going to be working on it. I'm glad that people are going to be asking these questions and looking at different approaches. I think it's time for a discussion in Canada about all this. And I look forward to the results." Recently, the Canadian Medical Association Journal argued in an editorial that the possession of small amounts of marijuana should be decriminalized. It's a position also favoured by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the RCMP and Conservative leader Joe Clark. But the Canadian Police Association, which represents front-line police officers, is opposed to decriminalization. It says marijuana is a "powerful" drug, the use of which leads to adverse consequences such as respiratory damage, declining physical co-ordination, loss of memory and cognition, and harmful psychiatric effects. The medical effects of marijuana are at the heart of Mr. Rock's initiative. He described yesterday how, two years ago, he began meeting people -- such as AIDS and cancer patients, and those suffering from epilepsy -- who said marijuana was the only thing that made them feel better. At the time, courts were beginning to rule in favour of sick people who said they should not be prosecuted for smoking the drug. "I came to the conclusion that I couldn't live with myself if we didn't move on it," said Mr. Rock. "And why not? We've got medical morphine. We've got medical heroin. Why not medical marijuana?" He began issuing ministerial exemptions -- 292 have been granted so far -- so sick people could grow and smoke marijuana without fear of criminal prosecution. He also hired independent researchers to conduct research on whether it's true that marijuana has medicinal effects for the sick. But last summer, an Ontario court ruled this system was too arbitrary and gave the government one year to bring in new, more formal regulations that outline who should be exempt from prosecution. Those new regulations, which came into force this week, set out the criteria that an applicant must meet. Essentially, they must be quite ill and a doctor must be willing to vouch that other medication doesn't work. The new rules have drawn fire from the Canadian Medical Association, which says doctors will be forced to approve the use of marijuana for sick patients even though the research is unclear on side effects. Also, patients have complained the new regulations are even more bureaucratic than the old system of exemptions. Mr. Rock admitted the new rules aren't perfect, but said they can be improved if necessary. He praised the Flin Flon growing operation being performed by a private company that won a $5.7-million government contract. More than 3,000 plants are being grown in a lab hundreds of metres below the surface. After some clinical trials, the marijuana will be made available as early as next February to those sick Canadians who qualify under the new regulations. Mr. Rock indicated he's not worried about how others, such as the U.S. government, might react to Canada's decision to exempt pot-smoking sick people from prosecution. "We are going our own road on this. We are Canadians. We have made our own judgment. We are reflecting our own values ... I will look first to Canadian needs and interests, rather than the opinions of others around the world." Note: 'Time for a discussion' on changing drug laws, health minister says.Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)Author: Mark Kennedy, The Ottawa CitizenPublished: Friday, August 3, 2001 Copyright: 2001 The Ottawa CitizenContact: letters Website: http://www.ottawacitizen.comRelated Articles & Web Site:Canadian Links In The Ground Lies The Marijuana Farm Goes to Pot - We Should Follow Articles - Canada 
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Comment #1 posted by TroutMask on August 03, 2001 at 08:23:38 PT
"Of course, we will pay close attention to whatever they recommend," said Mr. Rock.WOW! That will be the first time any politician has paid close attention to the recommendations of their own appointed committees concerning marijuana. Why don't they use one of the many previous recommendations? Oh yeah, they didn't recommend what the government wanted to hear. Deja vu...
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