BEFORE THIS year, Canada earned its rep as a pot-friendly country
through a four-step program. (1) Experiment with medical marijuana.
(2) Don't hand out life sentences for any cannabis crimes. (3) Keep
that B.C. "superpot" coming. (4) Live near a nation with weed laws so
crazy, you'll always look great in comparison. Using this easy plan,
the Canadian commitment to marijuana was unquestioned.

In the last few weeks, however, that relaxed approach went out the
window. Since its federal government was pushed by the courts to
decriminalize possession, Canada's been publicly exposed as a smoker's
haven. But George Bush's nose is officially out of joint about sharing
his border with the stoner nation to the north. Torn over going its
own way on pot or following Bush, Canada opted for compromise,
drafting a stupid law that loosens up on possession, then increases
jail terms for distribution. It was a test of Canada's convictions,
and Canada failed.

Marijuana became a really burning topic May 16, when a superior-court
judge in Ontario--cementing a January lower-court ruling--declared
Canada's possession law invalid. The story behind the case is
complicated, involving an epileptic who's allowed pot for medical
reasons, a 16-year-old arrested for smoking up in a park, and equal
rights. The result, however, is simple: Canada does not have a law
against possession. And as the news spread across the land, many small
fires were lit to celebrate.

With the gauntlet thrown down from the court, on May 27 the government
proposed a law making possession of 15 grams or less a minor offence,
like a speeding ticket. The bill wasn't passed before Canada's
parliament went on summer vacation, so right now pot is in a legal
vacuum. That--and a lot of bongs--is the sucking sound Americans can
hear in border states.

Even before the Ontario judge passed the weed issue to the government,
Bush's gang went on the attack to discourage legalization. "We would
be forced to respond," warned David Murray, a capo in drug czar John
Walters' organization. During an interview with the Canadian
Broadcasting Corporation, he nearly explained the forces at work here.
"You can't wall this off, saying, 'We're only talking about a little
cannabis.' Our experience is they come together like the Four Horsemen."

Not to belittle America's familiarity with the Apocalypse, or to
bother with the gateway myth, but don't bogart the fun. Last year the
Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs brought out its
report stating there is no gate; most recreational tokers don't become
addicts; and booze and cigarettes cost society way, way more than the
illegal drugs.

These facts don't make it to Bush's world, of course. He sees Prime
Minister Chretien debating a person's right to get baked without going
to jail, and thinks Canada's gone soft on drugs. That's simply not the
case. Sure, the new law would make possession a ticketing offence
rather than a crime--but since courts ruled there are no valid
possession laws in Canada, the government is actually trying to
recriminalize rather than decriminalize pot. Plus the proposed law
includes new penalties to make Canada's stance on weed stricter.
Growers would face 14 years in prison, doubled from the current seven,
and a trafficking conviction could mean a life sentence. Harsh tokes
indeed.

Easing up on possession while clamping down on production is
hypocritical and anti-capitalist. On the demand side, it's fair to
assume a lighter penalty on possession won't exactly chase away
potential new users. So as more buyers decide they'll risk the
fine--$150 for an adult--we can predict a growth in the dealing trade
and its attendant criminal culture. Not the safest result of a law
meant to take the hysteria out of a pretty safe drug. In terms of
supply, stiffer laws against distribution theoretically make weed
scarce, leaving citizens at the demand end of the chain praying to the
Pot Fairy for their 15 grams.

Waffling on the brink of a decision is a typically Canadian move. The
nation, caught from birth between the pull of two empires and France,
often acts like the little sibling wanting to please everybody. But
when it comes to pot, there's just not going to be a way to satisfy
the Bush doctrine of reefer madness, while supporting public opinion
and science. Canada still tried, unfortunately, creating a set of
regulations that makes the country feel more like America than Amsterdam.


Pubdate: Thu, 03 Jul 2003
Source: Stranger, The (Seattle, WA)
Copyright: 2003 The Stranger
Contact: postmaster@thestranger.com
Website: http://www.thestranger.com/