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[font size="1" color="#FF0000"]LAST EDITED ON Aug-03-00 AT 03:21 PM (EST)[/font][p] Pubdate: Wed, 02 Aug 2000
Source: Halifax Daily News (CN NS)
Copyright: 2000 The Daily News.
Contact: letterstoeditor@hfxnews.southam.ca


TOBACCO, AN addictive, health-harming, perfectly legal and highly taxable substance,
makes an interesting contrast with marijuana, another cash crop but illegal and untaxed in all
its forms, from trafficking across the border to possession of a few grams.

If these leafy products were swapped, in terms of the application of the law, it would make
more sense, at least as "recreational" drugs of wide choice. But common sense in dealing, so
to speak, with a mild euphoric such as marijuana, and with those "hard" drugs linked to
serious crime, violence and bodily risk, has been in short supply since the U.S. declared a
war on drugs that itself became a growth industry.

Public debate on the role of marijuana as an "entry point" to such undesirable habits as
cocaine and heroin, and on the ill-effects of heavy use of pot, has a parallel argument in the
use and abuse of alcohol. This product also requires using with discretion. But as police and
social agencies well know, it triggers severe social problems and illegal acts when abused.

In that context, smoking marijuana is low on the list of social evils, and in some countries is
ignored as a criminal offence, or is legal within what amounts to minor possession.
Addictions, in fact, are seen as medical rather than criminal problems.

CANADA'S unequal sharing of the continent with the U.S. makes such decriminalization less
feasible, assuming authorities want to concentrate more time, effort and money on major
marijuana and hard-drug profiteers such as motorcycle hoodlums and ethnic gangs.

The spark for change may have been given by the Ontario appeal court ruling in a
medical-use case that the marijuana possession law is unconstitutional. This is because pot
seems to be a useful medicine in certain chronic illnesses. More broadly, the decision could
dump the law nationally.

Support for de facto decriminalization of minor possession (under five grams) comes from the
Canadian Association of Police Chiefs. Board member Edgar MacLeod, the Cape Breton
regional police chief, says there are social consequences to using marijuana but they should
not include people getting a lifetime criminal record in minor cases, nor distract the police and
the courts from chasing criminals.

This is not legalization. It is, however, a more sensible approach than the war-on-all-fronts
that typifies today's law enforcement. A law on possession that is so widely broken and so
lacking in endorsement from many senior police officers is in serious need of review, starting
about now.
MAP posted-by: Doc-Hawk