MONTREAL (CP) -- Canadians appeared evenly split about whether the federal
government should move to legalize marijuana for personal use, suggests a
new poll.

The Leger Marketing survey indicated 46.8 per cent of Canadians questioned
earlier this month were in favour of a law that would allow marijuana to be
sold and used legally.

Forty-seven per cent of respondents were opposed to such a measure, while
6.2 per cent either didn't know or refused to answer the question.

"What this poll suggests is that the government doesn't necessarily have a
blank cheque," Jean-Marc Leger, president of Leger Marketing, said in an
interview.

"It might be acceptable to the population but it will also take a certain
dose of courage by politicians if they want to legalize it because it's not
accepted by everyone in the same way."

Regional breakdowns in favour of legalized marijuana were as follows:
Quebec, 52.7 per cent; British Columbia, 52.4; Ontario, 45.9; the Maritimes,
44.7; the Prairies, 37.4; and Alberta, 36.9.

Leger Marketing surveyed 1,507 people across the country between June 5 and
13. The national results are considered accurate within plus or minus 2.6
percentage points 19 times out of 20.

The margins of error for the regional breakdowns are higher.

The questions did not distinguish between the use of pot for medicinal
purposes and its recreational use. Leger noted previous polls have indicated
strong support for the use of medicinal marijuana.

In April, Health Minister Allan Rock announced long-awaited new regulations
that will allow certain people with terminal or serious illnesses to use
marijuana to ease their suffering.

The move has met with little opposition and is expected to take effect by
the end of July.

But groups such as the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian
Association of Chiefs of Police are among those to have called on Ottawa to
take the bolder step of decriminalizing the possession of marijuana for any
kind of personal use.

Tory Leader Joe Clark recently called for the decriminalization of the
simple possession of small amounts of dope.

Meanwhile, the House of Commons passed a unanimous motion before the summer
recess to create a committee to examine the issues of non-medical drugs in
Canada.

A spokesperson for Rock said the minister is "looking forward
enthusiastically to the discussion and debate" of the committee.

But Catherine Lappe noted decriminalization of marijuana is not the
intended priority of a federal national drug strategy the Liberals promised
in the election campaign last fall.

Leger said the debate over marijuana closely resembles those that have
taken place at the provincial level over video lottery terminals, casinos or
the sale of alcohol.

"People are often very divided on these kinds of questions," said Leger.

"So it's not the population that will push the government, but results like
this leave the government with a certain latitude."

The Leger poll also indicated that more than a third, 38.7 per cent, of
those surveyed admitted to having used marijuana at least once. Forty-nine
per cent of respondents in British Columbia said they had used it, while the
figure in Ontario was 35.8 per cent.

When asked whether a law authorizing the sale and use of marijuana would
reduce the use of the drug among minors, 57.4 per cent of those asked said
"not at all", while only seven per cent said "a lot."

While 17.1 per cent said the reduction would be "a little", 13.9 per cent
said it would be "enough" and 4.6 per cent said they did not know or refused
to answer.