OTTAWA -- Parliament should take simple marijuana possession out of the
Criminal Code and make it a smaller offence punishable by only a fine,
Canada's top medical lobby group urged Monday.

But decriminalization of the drug, also known as cannabis, should only take
place if accompanied by an anti-drug strategy that includes a national
"cannabis cessation" program, the Canadian Medical Association said.

"The CMA believes that resources currently devoted to combating simple
marijuana possession through the criminal law could be diverted to public
health strategies, particularly for youth," the association said in a brief
to the Senate special committee on illegal drugs.

Criminal records from thousands of possession convictions against young
people each year only make the problem worse and lead to more health
problems, said association president Dr. Henry Haddad.

"Addiction should be regarded as a disease and therefore individuals
suffering with drug dependency should be diverted, whenever possible, from
the criminal justice system to treatment and rehabilitation," Haddad told
the committee.

The CMA brief outlined studies that have found drug use increasing among
students above Grade 6. A 1999 Ontario study found 29.2 per cent of
students from grades 7 to 13 had used cannabis, compared to 11.7 per cent
in 1991.

Recent medical studies have established the medical harm of cannabis,
including slower reaction times, impaired motor co-ordination and
concentration, increased heart rates, dilated blood vessels and
psychological impairment in certain cases, the association said.

Despite the negative findings, however, the CMA said experience in other
countries suggests decriminalization would not result in a sudden spike in
cannabis use, other than the growth trends already established over the
last decade.

The Canadian Society of Addiction Medicine also called for the
decriminalization of personal possession of all drugs, to be accompanied by
government control over drug production and distribution.

Newshawk: puff_tuff
Pubdate: Tue, 12 Mar 2002
Source: StarPhoenix, The (CN SN)
Copyright: 2002 The StarPhoenix
Author: Tim Naumetz