Legalization of marijuana will be a hot issue in the looming federal election, according to the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.
Kirk Tousaw, the BCCLA's policy director, pointed out that for the first time in Canadian history, one of the three major political parties has pot legalization as one of its election platforms.

"The NDP wants pot legalized -- they say it should be available in licensed outlets," said Tousaw, whose organization is holding a conference Saturday to examine how Canada would look in a post pot-prohibition era.

The Liberal Party is seeking to reduce penalties for pot possession, while the Conservative Party wants to retain the status quo.

Saturday's conference, called Beyond Prohibition: Legal Cannabis in Canada, will be opened by Mayor Larry Campbell, fresh from giving a speech in Australia on the benefits of Vancouver's supervised injection site.

Tousaw said it doesn't make sense to continue to criminalize possession of pot, noting marijuana has been used for thousands of years, and has only been criminal for about 80. "It's been used by more than half of Canadians without any real impact."

The speakers list, examining health, regulation and policing aspects of pot prohibition and legalization, includes Eric Nash and Wendy Little, who operate Island Harvest Certified Organic Cannabis, a licensed medical marijuana-growing operation. They argue cannabis is safe to grow when growers aren't trying to avoid detection.

"There is nothing dangerous about growing a plant -- the danger comes from the fact the plant is illegal to grow so you have to cut corners and do things unsafely to avoid detection," Tousaw said. "Eric and Wendy will say they have children in their home, they don't have mould, they aren't afraid of fire. It's safe to grow because it's legal."

Tousaw has also invited Steph Sherer, from the California-based Americans For Safe Access, to discuss the medical marijuana access program in California, considered on the leading edge of medical marijuana law in North America. Walter McKay, a former Vancouver Police Department officer and founding member of the VPD's drug squad, is scheduled to talk about the extent to which police resources are used to pursue marijuana users and growers.

The forum's keynote speaker is Conservative senator Claude Nolin, who recently completed an 18-month Senate inquiry into marijuana use and laws in Canada, concluding marijuana should be legalized.

"The goal of the conference is not to criticize prohibition and all the harms it creates, though that is easy to do," Tousaw said. "What we will do is paint a comprehensive picture of what Canada would look like if we legalize cannabis use and cultivation. It is a picture that is far more socially beneficial than our current policies."

For more information about the conference, go to:

Source: Vancouver Courier (CN BC)
Author: David Carrigg, Vancouver Courier
Published: Thursday, May 06, 2004
Copyright: 2004 Vancouver Courier