<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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The Coming Canadian Drug Revolution

While Latin America Rises, U.S. Policy Losing Northern Front


By Alejandro Bustos
Narco News Canadian Correspondent

January 14, 2003

By the spring of 2003, possessing or cultivating up to 30 grams (1.1 ounces) of marijuana may no longer be a crime in Canada.

At least that’s what Martin Cauchon, Canada’s justice minister, is telling Canadians.

“If we’re talking about that question of decriminalizing marijuana, we may move ahead quickly as a government,” Cauchon told reporters outside of the House of Commons in mid-December.

“I don’t like to give you a date or a time frame, but let’s say the beginning of next year, the four first months of next year.”

The comment by the justice minister prompted Canada’s Supreme Court to delay the hearing of a case challenging Canada’s marijuana laws.

As reported in Narco News this past August, the Supreme Court was scheduled to hear a constitutional challenge against Canadian laws prohibiting the cultivation, possession and trafficking of marijuana.

The hearing was scheduled for Dec. 13. But after listening to the words of the justice minister, which came mere days before the case was to be heard, the Supreme Court decided to adjourn the matter.

“The minister of justice has announced his intention to introduce legislation in the Parliament that will decriminalize, in some ways, possession of marijuana,” said Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin.

“The underlying basis will be taken up in Parliament and widely discussed for months to come. In considering all of these circumstances, the court will adjourn.”

The case is now scheduled to be heard during the Supreme Court’s spring session which starts in April.

The move to decriminalize marijuana follows a remarkable serious of events in Canada over the last four months.

In September, a Canadian Senate committee advocated legalizing marijuana.

“Cannabis should be, from here on, in legal and of restricted use, so that Canadians can choose whether to consume or not in security,” said Conservative Sen. Pierre Claude Nolin, chair of the special committee on illegal drugs that made the recommendation.

“Domestic and international experts and Canadians from every walk of life told us loud and clear that we should not be imposing criminal records on users or unduly prohibiting personal use of cannabis.”

The Senate committee recommended that marijuana become a government-licensed product and that the sale of the drug by available to those over the age of 16.

Public reaction to the report was that the recommendation was too radical to be implemented, but that it would put pressure on Ottawa to change its drug laws.

Following the Senate report, the city of Vancouver – my hometown – held a municipal election.

The vote, which was held in mid-November, was described by some political commentators as the first ever political race dominated by the war on drugs.

Larry Campbell, who won the mayoralty race in a landslide, actively campaigned on a platform to introduce safe injection sites for drug users.

After being sworn into power, Campbell said safe injection sites would be opened in Vancouver with the approval of the federal government by either late February or early March.

Campbell’s pledge was bolstered in the second week of December when a parliamentary committee recommended the creation of safe injection sites for users of heroin and cocaine.

Paddy Torsney, chairwoman of the House of Commons committee on the non-medical use of drugs, said the time had come to change Canada’s drug laws.

“People are using drugs. Let’s deal with the health problem,” Torsney told reporters after the parliamentary report was released. “They’re somebody’s brother or sister, and they’re deserving of our care.”

It is estimated that between 100,000 and 125,000 people are injection drug users in Canada. These users, who inject a mixture of substances, use mostly heroin and cocaine.

A few days after publicly supporting safe injection sites, the same House of Commons committee co-chaired by Torsney called for the decriminalization of the possession and cultivation of up to 30 grams of marijuana for personal use.

Not surprisingly, the move to change Canada’s drug laws has been with anger by the U.S. government.

John Walters, commonly knows as President George W. Bush’s drug czar, threatened that the U.S. would tighten its border if Canada decriminalized marijuana.

“It’s not my job to judge Canadian policy,” said Walters, director of the National Drug Control Policy in Washington, D.C.

“But it is my job to protect Americans from dangerous threats and right now Canada is a dangerous staging area for some of the most potent and dangerous marijuana. . . . That’s a problem. We have to make security at the border tougher because this is a dangerous threat to our young people.”

The threat of a U.S. clampdown at the border has many Canadians concerned.

In an editorial published just before Christmas, the St. Catharines Standard newspaper said pressure from the White House would kill any attempts to change Canada’s drug laws.

“Given America’s post-9/11 feeling since that they are besieged and that Canada is the source of terrorist infiltrators and smugglers of illegal aliens and drugs, there’ll be little protest in the U.S. if they clamp down on people and goods entering their country,” said the newspaper.

“When that happens, business in this country will quickly put pressure on the (federal government) to ditch the idea and make amends with the U.S.”

The influential national newspaper the Globe and Mail, however, praised the move to decriminalize possession of marijuana. Other newspaper like the Ottawa Citizen, meanwhile, have been advocating for an end to the current war on drugs for years.

The support to change Canada’s drug laws has also gained support from some leading politicians. John Hamm, premier of the eastern province of Nova Scotia, said in December that marijuana should treated like any other drug that treats people suffering acute pain.

Hamm stopped short of calling for the legalization of pot, but added that people who possess small amounts of marijuana should be not treated as criminals.

In contrast, Roger Grimes, the premier of Newfoundland, has called on Ottawa to move beyond decriminalization and to push for full-out legalization of marijuana.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America