Senate report won't alter U.S. policy, officials say, but marijuana
advocates argue it will sway public

Joanne Laucius
The Ottawa Citizen

Advocates of marijuana reform in the U.S. celebrated a Canadian Senate
committee report yesterday, while those who crack down on marijuana users
insist the report will not dampen the U.S. war on drugs.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says the report won't change the
way it does business, even if it results in a change to marijuana laws in
Canada. "Our drug policy is intact," said spokesman Thomas Hinojosa.

"Marijuana is against the law, whether it is possessed, cultivated or
distributed," he said.

"It is not our number 1 priority, but it is our responsibility. We will
enforce the Controlled Substances Act."

While Canada and some European nations, including Switzerland and Britain,
have been slowly loosening their marijuana laws, conflicting signals come
from the U.S.

Eight states permit the medicinal use of marijuana, while Nevada will hold a
referendum this fall to determine whether residents want to decriminalize
the drug. New Mexico's Republican Gov. Gary Johnson has come out in favour
of legalizing cannabis.

At the same time, the number of arrests for possession has increased by 75
per cent in the past decade. There were more than 734,000 marijuana-related
arrests in 2000, more than 80 per cent of them for possession.

Just last month, the U.S. government starting running advertisements that
linked drugs to financing terrorism. President George W. Bush declared that
quitting drugs was synonymous with joining in the war against terrorism.

Some U.S. lawmakers, including Detroit police Chief Jerry Oliver, believe
there are better ways to spend law enforcement dollars than cracking down on
marijuana users.

But a recent survey of members of the National Association of Chiefs of
Police shows almost 89 per cent of the respondents believe marijuana use
should still be illegal. About three-quarters believe the 15-year-old war on
drugs has been successful in reducing drug use.

Mr. Bush's drug czar, John Walters has not softened. "The number of people
seeking medical treatment for marijuana abuse is increasing rapidly, not
decreasing," he said in a column in the San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday.

"In fact, the number of adolescent marijuana admissions increased 260 per
cent between 1992 and 1999."

This morning, when the U.S. department of Health and Illness Services
releases its annual report on drug use reform, legalization advocates will
point out Canada's "sane" Senate report to journalists in their fight to
convince policy-makers that marijuana laws need to the reconsidered.

The Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, which has about 9,000
paying members, cheered the report.

"I think the report makes a very good case for taking it out of the black
market, out of the criminal underground and out into the daylight where it
can be discussed intelligently," said spokesman Bruce Mirken.

The news out of Canada can't help but affect public opinion public opinion
in the U.S., he said.

"At a certain point, it has to become obvious to policy-makers that most of
the world is moving beyond 'reefer madness,' " said Mr. Mirken.

"John Walters treats it as an evil scourge that has to be demonized and
wiped off the face of the Earth. Eventually, the silliness of that has to be

Ethan Nadelmann, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which
has 10,000 members including two federal judges, appeared before the Senate
committee last November.

His group does not advocate legalizing hard drugs such as cocaine, however,
it does promote treating drug addicts rather than putting them behind bars.

"There's a risk of increased use. But the benefits exceed the risks," he
said yesterday.

He believes a significant report released in a neighbouring country must
affect policy in the U.S. It's like when Canada repealed prohibition laws 70
years ago, he said. "It was an important step in hastening the process of
reform in the U.S."

The Senate Committee's Proposal

Highlights of a Senate committee report yesterday recommending that Canada
legalize the use of marijuana and hashish:

- - Marijuana and hashish should come under a regulatory system for production
and sale under licence for legal use by any Canadian resident over 16.

- - Looser rules for the use of medical marijuana should provide easier

- - The law should be changed for those who drive after using both alcohol and
marijuana, with blood-alcohol limits lowered to .04 per cent in such cases.

- - The government should erase the criminal records of 300,000 to 600,000
Canadians convicted of simple possession.

- - The government should appoint a national adviser on psychoactive

- - The government should call a conference of the provinces, municipalities
and other interested parties to set the ground rules for legal marijuana.

- - The government should finance research on drugs and on prevention and
treatment programs, financed by taxes on the sale of legal marijuana.

Pubdate: Thursday, September 5, 2002
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Address: P.O. Box 5020, 1101 Baxter Rd., Ottawa, ON K2C 3M4
Author: Joanne Laucius