Royal Commission Review of Marijuana Policy in Canada
From: Commission Member David Meek
To: Minister of Justice: Mr. Neshevich
Among the vast array of social issues confronting Canadian citizens today, the need for proper and thorough review of marijuana policy reform is a pressing and substantial problem. People are torn between the different ways in which marijuana policy should be reformed in Canada. A number of pros and cons regarding the issue make a simple solution almost impossible. The role of this Royal Commission is to review key problems and issues that emerge from the marijuana debate, and also look at key legal cases which may aid in finding a common ground in this conflict or signify an obvious advantage to a specific course of action that should be taken. Within this issue there are two sides, first is the conservative left who note the significant health risks, the effects that marijuana has on society, and the crime and violence that surfaces from the drug war on marijuana. Secondly, there are those with a more right-wing attitude toward this issue, these are the people who are striving for the decriminalization of marijuana. The reasons for decriminalization are strong in theory and range from different factors such as; utilizing marijuana for medicinal purposes, incredible economic benefits that would arise from governmental control of marijuana, reduction in police corruption, and also a reduction in violent crime that is associated with illegal marijuana trafficking and use. Regardless of which side you are on, both seem to be at a consensus that currently Canada s war on marijuana wastes a lot of money, and vast amounts of human resources and is only 10% effective. (Bender/Leone) Policy reform is needed greatly, the current public interest and the intensity of this Canadian issue shows us that. In order to create new legislation for marijuana you must first review the current laws that are in question.
It is estimated that over 2,000,000 Canadians smoke marijuana on a regular basis (Potter) Canada s current laws force these 2,000,000 otherwise law-abiding Canadians to be criminals. Do these people absolutely need to be classified as criminals though? The average pot smoker places harm on no one else except themselves (health-wise), and most are aware at they are doing so, this is not unlike your average run of the mill nicotine, or alcohol user. Except in most cases alcohol and nicotine use proved to be more harmful to society, because of factors such as the consumption of secondhand smoke, and the fatal epidemic of drunk driving in our country. The laws which prohibit the use of marijuana and the ones which this commission will review are stated in the criminal code of Canada, first is subsection one of the narcotic control act which states; (1) except as authorized by this act or the regulations, no person shall have a narcotic in his possession. (2) Every person who contravenes subsection (1) is guilty of an offense and liable (a) on summary conviction for a first offense, two a fine not exceeding $1,000.00 or to imprisonment for term not exceeding six months or to both; or (b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years. The second is subsection four which states (1) no person shall traffic in a narcotic or any substance are represented were held out the person to be a narcotic. (2) No person shall have in his possession any narcotic for the purpose of trafficking. (3) Every person who contravenes subsection (1) or (2) is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for life. The last law that may be affected through this review is stated in subsection 6 (1) no person shall cultivate opium poppy or marijuana except under the authority of, and in accordance with, a license issued to the person under the regulations. (2) Every person who contravenes subsection (1) is guilty of an indictable offense and liable to imprisonment for term not exceeding seven years. It is ludicrous to imply that over 2 million Canadians at this very time could be incarcerated for a time span of six months to their entire life for a mainly victimless crime.
Of all the pro decriminalization arguments one of the most substantial must be the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Marijuana has been clinically proven to be an extremely effective treatment to many different serious and painful medical conditions. As of now marijuana is known to alleviate the severity of symptoms caused by AIDS, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, cancer, chemotherapy side effects, epilepsy, seizures, schizophrenia, and some eating disorders (Clark) Unfortunately marijuana is the most and only method of treatment for certain ailments that are associated with these conditions. Currently, 71 Canadians are legally allowed to smoke marijuana for medicinal purposes. (Potter) The problem is the length and complexness of the process for application; this keeps thousands of people who suffer from these chronic illnesses in pain and with little hope of relief through the use of marijuana. The current marijuana laws are forcing the ill to choose between their health and imprisonment, this is not in congruence with the principles of fundamental justice. If marijuana legislation was reviewed and policies were changed a lot of Canadians would be alleviated from their suffering.
Almost as strong a point as the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes is the suspected and very extensive economic benefits that would result from marijuana policy reform. In the likely event of marijuana decriminalization or even legalization the government could and would claim exclusive control over distribution of this highly profitable industry. As an example of the hi-octane economic fuel that the marijuana industry would provide Canada with, the greater Vancouver area is used as a model. In and greater Vancouver area, law enforcement officials estimate that there is over 7,000 homes that act as illegal grow rooms, with the average homegrown crop being worth $500,000 the result is a 3.5 billion dollar industry in one province alone. (O Neil) This is almost an unbelievable figure. As of now this 3.5 billion dollar industry is entirely outlawed by the Canadian government, this means it is illegal tender and does not benefit the Canadian economy. If the marijuana industry was fully utilized by the Canadian government our economy would flourish and the Canadian GDP would soar higher.
Another pro legalization/decriminalization fact incorporates the immense backlog of simple possession charges in our Canadian court system. Today our courts are littered with cases the victimless simple possession charges (under 30 g). These cases waste our already limited human resources, and are completely ineffective in combating marijuana (10% effective). Recently the Canadian association of police chiefs (CAPC) presented a pitch to Justice Minister Anne McLellan, which favored the decriminalizing of small possession charges of marijuana and hashish. (Cdn News Facts) the recent pitch by Canada s top cops is significant of the effect that these simple possession charges have on our court system and the amount of money wasted. Statistics show that half of the marijuana charges processed every year are simple possession charges. Half the money spent on the war against marijuana is wasted in our court system because of the failure to properly review current marijuana policy.
The main argument for non-activists of marijuana policy reform is the inherent health risks that are undertaken by marijuana users. The known health complications that are associated with marijuana are; coughing, asthma, upper respiratory problems, difficulty in accessing short-term memory, irregular heartbeat, headaches, dizziness, paranoia, cancer, decreased fertility in men, psychological dependency, which results in failure to properly deal with stress, along with subsequent health risks that will arise with further research. (Steele) These are not at all admirable qualities of a substance that the government is considering to allow the use of. Awareness must be pointed to the fact that our government does allow the use of drugs that are detrimental to human health most notably, alcohol and tobacco. Recently, controversy arose from findings by researchers, which concluded that marijuana is in fact less threatening to human health and tobacco or alcohol. (Maclean s) This obvious hypocrisy must be noted.
Another strike against the pro marijuana legalization is the suspected social decay that might arise for legalization of marijuana. Twelve years old is the average age that a person begins to use marijuana. (Steele) When this fact is matched with characteristics that are common with marijuana abuser such as increased accidents, low job satisfaction, counterproductive behavior, withdrawal and laziness the social problems that would surface are obvious.
The most important case regarding marijuana policy reform has to do with a medical marijuana case involving one, Terry Parker, 42. Mr. Parker was charged with cultivation, possession, and possession for the purpose of trafficking, very harsh crimes according to our criminal code with severe penalties of up to life imprisonment. Mr. Parker was growing marijuana to ease his very complex type of epilepsy, Mr. Parker would regularly suffer from up to 80 petit mal seizures and five grand mal seizures a week. The marijuana was effectively eliminating the seizures. Police seized 71 cannibis plants from Mr. Parker. Judge Patrick Shepherd ruled that the law fails to recognize that marijuana can be used for medicinal purposes by the chronically ill. The court also ruled that a marijuana possession section of Canada s controlled drugs and substances act is not in effect. This is an essential step towards marijuana policy reform, and will eventually result in some sort of action. Lawyer Alan Young was quoted as saying, If parliament doesn t amend the law and rectify the problems with medical exemptions, then everyone will be entitled to smoke marijuana legally in twelve months . (Gadd) An example of this type of situation is defined by the case Regina v. Morgantaller in which the court struck down a law that prohibited the termination of pregnancy by women because the law refused women the right to security of the person. The government did not rewrite legislation and as a result there is no criminal law relating to abortion. This could very well happen in the case of marijuana legislation. In any case, coincidentally, our government will have no other choice but to rewrite the laws in question by this review.
Another case, which signifies the need for policy reform, is that of R v. Christopher Clay. In 1997, Mr. Clay was charged with possession, cultivation, and possession the purpose of trafficking, because he had in his possession 50 cannibis plants. Mr. Justice heard Mr. Clay s defense and she decided to dismiss the case to a later date. Mr. Justice felt that the parliament had made the laws which prohibited Mr. Clay s actions, so they should have to rule on it, not himself, in other words he had a bias. This shows the outrage with current marijuana laws and that some members of our society, even judges, think to be unethical. At his later court appearance Mr. Clay was found guilty by the parliament and was sentenced to three years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
It is the duty of this royal commission to review the balance data presented and contrived as a suitable solution to our nationwide dilemma of marijuana policy reform. The solution that we so adamantly strive to achieve is not in the least easily attainable, so the commission s proposal to the minister should be considered as a loose guideline towards reaching a common ground between the two sides of this issue. Regarding the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, the royal commission is 100% adherent. We recommend that marijuana be produced and processed by the government into pill form so it is readily available and easily accessible for those Canadians who have no relief from their suffering. The application process or use of medicinal marijuana should be strictly on a doctor patient basis and should not be dependent on the decision of parliament faculty members. Forcing the ill to choose between their health and the law is not fair to the citizens of Canada, especially those suffering. In relation to the use of non-medicinal marijuana, the economic benefits to be had surely supercede the legal and human resource costs that our country is suffering as a result of current policy. In this commissions outlook there are two effective plans of action that could be taken. First, the legalization of marijuana, this would be done similar to the governmental control of alcohol and tobacco, except this commission is favorable towards an alternative type of consuming marijuana which is less detrimental to health. Governmental marijuana could be available to the public also in the form of a pill, this method will drastically reduce funds wasted on some possession charges, and still not transfer all of our currently wasted funding into health funding. Within this model there is great concern about the use of marijuana among Canada s youth. Much like tobacco, marijuana would be restricted to specific age groups. The second plan of action that could be taken is the decriminalization of marijuana in regards to simple possession charges. In this method, people would be given only fines for possession charges under 30 g, the hypocrisy of our government may be noted by the citizens of Canada through this course of action, in that marijuana is no more harmful than tobacco, which is permitted in our country. The solution that creates the most passive resistance by our citizens is preferred as the minister s number one choice, whichever that would be. However, it is this commission s strong and convicted belief that drug use in a society has a lethargic and extremely negative effect on its members. As marijuana may be decriminalized or otherwise legalized the war on drugs must not discontinue. Temperate citizens will be put to rest through either plan of action but, with both there is a strong need for the implementation of social programs to discourage drug use and eventually eliminate it. Our citizens should have no use for drugs, including marijuana, tobacco and alcohol, although the use is almost inevitable in our modern society. With the utilization of either plan presented by this royal commission review, the immediate problem of unruly citizen s will be solved, Canadians in suffering will be relieved of their pain, and the drug war will continue on a path that is much more effective than previous. We must change the ideals of Canadians so they are aware that drugs are not necessary for their day-to-day life, this will be completed socially instead of legally. Mr. Minister of Justice please address this situation with caution and sensitivity as your decision will affect the lives of an entire country. Carefully review this commissions report and hopefully a solution will be plausible.
1. Bender, David L. and Leone, Bruno Drug Abuse: Opposing Viewpoints (USA: Greenhaven press, 1988) pg 29-34
2. Potter, Mitch. Reefer blandness: Pot Goes Mainstream The Toronto Star. 17 October 2000-A9
3. Clark, Andrew Medicinal Weed: Ottawa approves applications to use marijuana Macleans 18 October 1999
4. O Neil, Terry. Pot of gold: British Columbia s huge marijuana growing business may be illegal but it fuels the economy report news magazine [national edition]. 10 Apr. 00
5. Unknown Police would ease pot laws Canadian news facts 16 Apr. 99 no. 8 pg. 58-59
6. Steele, Mandi Fighting Against Marijuana Legalization [On-Line] Accuracy in Media Available http://www.aim.org/publications/breifings/2000.html
7. Unknown WHO sits on findings (marijuana may impose fewer health risks than alcohol or tobacco Maclean s 16 March 98
8. Gadd, Jane law against marijuana struck down in Ontario: amend statute or face legalization Ottawa told Globe & Mail 1 August 00