Friday, March 17, 2006

No change to marijuana laws: Toews

Focus on the Family

Justice Minister Vic Toews is making it unmistakably clear that the Conservative government has no intention of decriminalizing the simple possession of small amounts of marijuana, Canadian Press reported.

A bill was introduced in the previous Parliament to reduce the penalty for possession from a criminal offence to the equivalent of parking ticket. Mike Storeshaw, speaking for Toews, was unequivocal when responding to reporters’ questions as to whether he would consider reviving it.

“It is a very short answer and the answer is ‘No,’” he replied. “We have no plans to bring any bill forward.”

Legislation introduced in November 2004 by then-Justice Minister Irwin Cotler aimed at “reforming” Canada’s cannabis laws died when the government fell a year later. Among other things, it would have imposed fines of between $100 and $400 on those convicted of possessing less than 15 grams of marijuana.

It was the Liberal government’s second attempt at marijuana decriminalization. The first bill, introduced in May 2003 and reintroduced in February 2004, also died when Canadians went to the polls in the 2004 federal election.

National Post columnist Don Martin believes one “good reason” for taking marijuana possession in small amounts out of the Criminal Code is the law’s uneven enforcement across Canada.

“An Ottawa RCMP spokeswoman told me enforcement is discretionary,” he wrote recently. “One officer might confiscate the stuff and let the offender off with a verbal warning while another will throw the book at an unfortunate toker. Enforcement varies dramatically by province, too. Convictions per 100,000 residents range from 78 in Newfoundland to 309 in British Columbia.

But others worry that decriminalizing marijuana would send young people in particular the message that smoking cannabis is socially acceptable and harmless to their health. Yet as extensive research has now shown, the reality is the dangers of using the drug far outweigh any possible benefits.

As CP noted, the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse has warned that the side-effects of marijuana use range from “impaired concentration to respiratory damage, depression, paranoia and the possible aggravation of pre-existing psychiatric symptoms.”


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