The Canadian federal election is just a week away, the federal leaders have been campaigning for a couple of months and have hashed out and debated many topics during debates, speeches, campaign stops and via traditional and social media. There is much to consider when faced with your ballot, including the marijuana platform.
This may not be a topic on top of your personal interest list but for 40,000 or so MMPR Canadians it means access to legal cannabis and cannabis products While important to is important to the patients there are an estimated 2.3 million Canadians who use cannabis either recreationally or as a therapeutic self medication treatment without a doctor’s prescription.
Over a million Canadians have been charged with possession of marijuana . Not high level drug trafficking, these charges often stem from someone be- ing found to have as little as one joint or a couple of grams of “pot” on their person. Statistics show marijuana incidents and charges have gone up by about 30 per cent between 2006 and 2014. During the past decade the number of charges laid has increased by 28% despite what seems to be a growing change in perception among Canadians about marijuana use. A recent Ipsos poll conducted on behalf of Global News found that 65 per cent of Canadians support the decriminalization of mari- juana so that possession of small amounts would no longer carry a penalty or fine.
According to research conducted by Forum Research, 53% of random Canadian surveyed said that the marijuana issue is
an election issue and one third of respondents said that they were “very likely” to switch their vote to support a pro-legalization candidate. It is worth noting that one fifth of Conservative voters say they will switch their vote to support legalization in Canada.
So what doe each of the Parties promise with respect to marijuana policy? The Conservatives have said that they do not support relaxing current marijuana laws. The Green Party has publicly said that they would support legalization and regulation. The NDP is in favour of decriminalizing marijuana and then continuing look for a solution. The Liberals say they will legalize and regulate marijuana.
So what is the difference between decriminalization and full legalization?
Legalization: Under the Liberal plan, Canadians would see cannabis fully legalized and regulated. They argue that Canada’s current system of marijuana prohibition does not work. It does not prevent young people from using marijuana and too many Canadians end up with criminal records for possessing small amounts of the drug.
“Arresting and prosecuting these offences is expensive for our criminal justice system. It traps too many Canadians in the criminal justice system for minor, nonviolent offences. At the same time, the proceeds from the illegal drug trade
support organized crime and greater threats to public safety, like human trafficking and hard drugs.”
Under the Liberals there will be stronger laws enacted to more severely punish those who provide cannabis to underage chil- dren and who sell the substance outside of the regulatory framework. The Liberals contend that this is the best policy for keep- ing the drug out of the hands of minors and published a 38 page detailed policy document in 2013 covering everything from possession and production to distribution and taxation, similar to how we currently regulate cigarettes.
Liberals also promise to fund research to better understand the benefits and harms related to marijuana. Along with that promise comes one to help raise awareness among Canadians (who are one of the highest per- centage of users world-wide) about the risks associated with cannabis use.
Decriminalization: The NDP has stated that they would act on the promise to decriminalize marijuana as soon as his party forms government. The NDP party has long stated that they would be in favour of decrimi- nalizing cannabis and repealing criminal penalties for personal use possession. The NDP also supports creating an independ- ent commission to consult on and study the issues at hand
pertaining to marijuana.
John Conroy, a lawyer specialising in marijuana law told The Straight (newspaper) that the NDP’s plan to decriminalize would mean that possession, while not a criminal offence would still be subject to potential police interference. This would likely be modelled after the legal framework for ticket- ing for traffic violations and would be at the officer’s discretion. Conroy states that his expectation would be that charges will go up rather than down and the situation could potentially turn into a “cash grab”.
Decriminalization of small amounts would lead to a system where it is legal to possess but not supply. This puts suppliers at risk of persecution and would create situations where citizen’s civil liberties are interfered with. Under the decriminalization scheme those ticketed for possession would still have their names recorded in a database which potentially could lead to job loss and / or trouble travelling over borders. Without legalizing production, sale and consumption together, organized crime
will continue to meet the market demand and law enforcement agencies and health care profes- sionals will remain in limbo.
Thirteen years ago, the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs published an 800 page report in which they suggested
that: “In our opinion, Canadian society is ready for a responsible policy of cannabis regulation,” and that “A regulatory system for cannabis should permit, specifically: more effective targeting of illegal traffic and a reduction in the role played by organized crime.”
Kash Heed, the former commanding officer of the Vancouver police drug squad testified before that committee and says that nowadays, he feels that decriminalization doesn’t go far enough. He points out that decriminalization does not ad- dress the illegal marijuana sup- ply and warns that with just decriminalization policy the violence associated with the black market would continue.
“Historically, all prohibitions from culture, language, literature and famously alcohol have failed. If there is not a single drug-free jail in north America what hope is there of keeping them out of general society?” Asks David Hutchinson, a well known medical marijuana advocate from White Rock. He points out that legalization and medical access are two separate things, although prohibitionists tend to mix them together.
“The Conservatives offer more of the same that sees Canada ranked by the United Nations as last out of 29 western countries for teenage cannabis use. What we have been doing is not working to stop teenage access.” Hutchinson continues, “The Liberals and Green party platform is to legalize. That would regulate the growing, supply and regulation under government control and also generate tax revenue. Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and DC have all legalized and it works, although some tweaks are required.
Hutchinson calls the NDP’s plan to decriminalize naive and unsophisticated as the functions of growing, supply and regulation would remain the job of gangs and other criminal outlaws.
For many people the idea of decriminalization appears to be a compromise that allows medical marijuana patients access to something that would be difficult to obtain otherwise, however those patients without a doctor willing to try marijuana as an alternative treatment would still be left out in the cold.
Hutchinson ends our conversation with a simple question that has stayed with me: “What compassionate society would have an issue with cannabis if a patient’s condition requires it and a medical doctor prescribes it?”