Saturday, May 27, 2006

Marijuana Policy and Liberal Bad Faith

The Le Dain Commission called for Marijuana to be decriminalized some 33 ago.

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"The ordinary citizen, seeing the assertions implied by the law frequently belied by pharmacological fact or the effects that he himself experiences in the use of drugs, has long since ceased to look for a relationship between the harmfulness of a substance and its classification under criminal law. In this domain, it must be said that the criminal law is thoroughly outdated and outworn."
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Marie-Andrée Bertrand, Associate Professor of Criminology at the University of Montreal, Le Dain Commission 1973.

Gordon Gibson explained Trudeau’s reaction thus: “The report was released as we were touring a bull-semen facility in Guelph, Ont. (I am not making this up.) The press cared not at all about productive agriculture and totally about weed. At an end-of-tour press conference, the prime minister was asked if he favoured decriminalization. We were in the semen facility's boardroom and it had a blackboard with a permanent picture of Elsie the cow painted on, perhaps in recognition of the customer base. Mr. Trudeau was very quick. Saying not a word, he went to the blackboard, took the chalk and drew a cartoonist's balloon out of the cow's mouth. Inside he slowly wrote, "I like grass!" The room dissolved in laughter.” With regard to marijuana, the Liberals have lived in a perpetual state of bad faith ever since.

Sure in the 1980 throne speech Trudeau did say that it was time "to move cannabis offences to the Food and Drug Act and remove the possibility of imprisonment for simple possession”, but that never came to past and such comments only served as an acknowledgment and a reminder that the Liberal party had kept marijuana possession illegal for 7 years without itself believing in the rational for keeping it illegal.

In 2002 a Senate Committee looking into the issue of marijuana recommended in start terms that marijuana legal. Shortly thereafter Canada’s possession laws began to creak and break under their own internal contradictions; for four months Ontario had no possession law and laws in other jurisdictions narrowly avoided the same fate. Neither escaped Jean Chrétien notice. Chrétien did not share Trudeau’s catholic guilt in not allowing truth to prevail. However he did have revengeful streak, a good sense of Martin conservatism and good sense of political timing. He promised to decriminalize marijuana possession; Canadians he promised would face fines not criminal charges. His public musings about trying marijuana were a cruel reminder of the fact that for decades Canada had on its books a law its leaders literally regarded as a laughing matter. “I will have my money for my fine and a joint in my other hand.”

A commitment to decriminalize marijuana stayed Liberal policy after the Chrétien left and Martin took over, but remained a neglected child weighted down my provisions and language designed to pacify the Americans. Indeed, it seems that the more Martin tried to tape into anti Bush sentiment in Canada the more he was willing to allow the US to control Canadian drug policy. The Marc Emery case is a great example. For years Marc Emery had been paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in Federal taxes on money he made “selling marijuana seeds”. Yet last summer, at the behest of the American government, Canada arrested Emery and laid the groundwork for him to be sent to the States to face charges. If convicted, which is a forgone conclusion given that Emery never hid what he was doing, Emery faces anywhere for 10 years to life behind bars for a crime that is rarely prosecuted in Canada and has only ever warranted a small fine. An attempt by BC marijuana activist to save Emery from being sent to the States speaks volumes about the Martin’s government lack of courage and bad faith. The activist has long pressed to have Emery charged under Canadian law. Under the terms of the extradition treaty, one can not be extradited if one is facing the same charge in one’s country of residence and one was arrested there. So far his efforts have not been successful. Canadian authorities seem unwilling to charge him under Canadian law, but are willing to send him to the States to face 10 to life in prison.

Needless to say, neither of what Chrétien or Martin proposed would have worked. One can not have, on the one hand, stringent enforcement for trafficking and, on the other hand, mere fines for possession. The problem is that at bottom the population rightly views marijuana as being pretty innocuous and this undermines the legitimacy of such a sharp conceptual divide. Indeed it undermines the legitimacy of Canada having any sort of marijuana laws at all. Even parking tickets have to be seen to serve some legitimate purpose for people not to view them as an unfair imposition. Such was not the case with the Liberals proposed Marijuana fines. Sure, Canadians understand that the Americans would not be pleased about legalization and as such there would be certain practical advantages to not legalizing it. However, that does not make marijuana prohibition in a general sense legitimate in their eyes; it just means that Canada is tailoring its own laws to meet the demands of Americans consideree so illegitimate that popular cultural considers them a symptom of madness “refer madness”. This can not stand. Any perception that Canada is enforcing laws to met with illegitimate demands of a bullying third party, whoever that may be, is simply poisonous to the health of a functioning democracy.


Smoke said...

Drugs are just bad, you should try to use Herbal Alternatives as a temporary replacement to loose the dependance!

Toronto medical marijuana said...

There are still some very anti-pot people out there.

Most notable is a Toronto group the Federation of Metro Tenants Associations that used to regularly dispense information on their website about how to get neighbours evicted for pot smoking!

They didn't even care if the person had terminal cancer - they feel all pot smokers should either quit or this "tenant group" will provide advice on how to get them evicted!