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Canada: A reflection on US policies

Used for medical and sacramental purposes, alcohol is also a social drug that is associated with serious physical, behavioral and social problems. Alcohol's consequences are so severe that it is the only drug ever prohibited by the US Constitution -- and the consequences of Prohibition were so severe that the Constitution was amended by the 21st Amendment to reverse the 18th.

Cannabis Should be Legalized, Says Groundbreaking New Report Released by Canadian Senate Special Committee

United States Increasingly Isolated in Zero-Tolerance Stance

Tony Newman, 510-208-7711

September 4, 2002

OTTAWA, September 4, 2002 - Canada's Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs today released its final report on cannabis. According to a press release by the Committee, the exhaustive and comprehensive two-year study of public policy related to marijuana found that the drug should be legalized. The 600 plus page Senate report is a result of rigorous research, analysis and extensive public hearings in Ottawa and communities throughout Canada with experts and citizens.

"Scientific evidence overwhelmingly indicates that cannabis is substantially less harmful than alcohol, and should be treated not as a criminal issue, but as a social and public health issue," said Senator Pierre Claude Nolin, Chair of the Special Committee, in a news conference today in Ottawa. "Indeed, 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.

"At the same time, make no mistake, we are not endorsing cannabis use for recreational consumption. Whether or not an individual uses marijuana should be a personal choice that is not subject to criminal penalties. But we have come to the conclusion that, as a drug, it should be regulated by the State much as we do for wine and beer, hence our preference for legalization over decriminalization."

Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of Drug Policy Alliance, the leading organization promoting alternatives to the war on drugs in the United States, applauded the report. "Marijuana prohibition now makes no more sense than alcohol Prohibition did 75 years ago," said Nadelmann. "Canada's joining a growing number of other nations that are turning their backs on the U.S.'s costly and counterproductive marijuana policy."

According to the press release, the Senate Report concludes that:

* The Government of Canada should adopt an integrated policy on the risks and harmful effects of psychoactive substances covering the whole range of substances including cannabis, medications, alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs, focussing on educating users, detecting and preventing at-risk use and treating excessive use.

* As far as cannabis is concerned, only behaviour causing demonstrable harm to others should be prohibited: illegal trafficking, selling to young people under the age of sixteen and impaired driving.

* Legislation for a cannabis exemption scheme should be introduced stipulating conditions for obtaining licences, producing and selling cannabis; criminal penalties for illegal trafficking and export; and the preservation of criminal penalties for all activities falling outside the scope of the exemption scheme.

* Present medicinal marijuana provisions are not effective and must be revised to provide greater access for those in need.

* Amnesty should be provided for any person convicted of possession of cannabis under current or past legislation.


U.S. says jump, Canada says "how high?"

(c) 2001 Ottawa Citizen (CN ON) Website: Fax: 613-596-8522

Address: 1101 Baxter Rd.,Ottawa, Ontario, K2C 3M4 Email:

By Dan Gardner

Canada's justice minister, Anne McLellan, lets Washington dictate Canadian drug policy

Canadian Press / America's 'War on Drugs' has failed even to curb drug use in the U.S., but Canadian Justice Minister Anne McLellan vows to press on.

Any Canadian who has ever wondered just who is in charge of this country's policy on illegal drugs got a clear answer from Justice Minister Anne McLellan last week: The government of the United States is in charge, that's who.

Naturally, Ms. McLellan didn't say this in so many words: that much honesty would be awkward. But for those familiar with the international War on Drugs, events last week allow no other interpretation.

On the surface, here's what happened: The International Narcotics Control Board, a 13-member United Nations body set up to monitor compliance with international treaties banning drugs, issued its 2000 report. The report, while lauding Canadian police for various drug busts, criticized Canada for not doing enough to enforce the ban on production of drugs such as ecstasy. It was even more pointed in criticizing Canada's failure to crush the flourishing marijuana trade. The fault for that, the INCB claimed, lies not with diligent police but liberal judges who give marijuana growers and sellers "too-lenient" sentences. The INCB singled out British Columbia as a sort of Holland-on-the-Pacific, a province awash in pot thanks to liberal judges.

In contrast to its critical words for Canada, the INCB was unstinting in its praise of American drug policies. (Curiously, the report didn't mention the half-million people in American jails for drug offences, or the record number of drug-related deaths, or the fact that on American streets drugs are cheaper, purer and more available than ever.)

The Canadian government, having been accused of shirking its soldierly duties in the War on Drugs, snapped to attention. "It's clear that we can do more and we must do more," Anne McLellan said. "We're going to put more resources toward that. Certainly we as a government are seized with the issue."

Ms. McLellan's response -- yes sir, how high shall I jump? -- may look innocent enough to a casual observer. An international body charged with overseeing laws that Canada signed said we're not living up to our obligations, and the Canadian government responded by promising to do better. That looks co-operative and reasonable.

That image is shattered, however, when one realizes that the INCB is little more than the mouthpiece of the American government.

That the INCB is something of a toady to Washington D.C. -- faithfully enforcing the severe American interpretations of international drug laws -- is something international experts emphasized to me while I did research for a series of articles about drugs last year.

The INCB is little more than the mouthpiece of the American government.

One such expert was a former UN official who held very senior posts in drug policy for many years. American drug officials, this person insisted, were zealots who used the INCB -- and many other pressure tactics -- to ensure other countries toed the American line on the drug war. The former official insisted on anonymity for fear American officials could sabotage this person's career.

Of course, these accusations might be dismissed as intramural griping -- were it not for the fact that the INCB has in the past been seen behaving like a wing of the U.S. State Department.

As I related in my series last fall, Australia in 1996 considered trying a small-scale "heroin-maintenance" trial -- in which heroin addicts would be given clean heroin to see if this would stabilize their lives enough to help them ultimately kick their habit. The U.S. government is adamantly opposed to any such notion and it dispatched a high-level official from the State Department to talk with an Australian committee examining the idea. The U.S. official noted that Australia had an opium-growing industry in the poor state of Tasmania, an industry licensed by the UN. He also noted, as recalled later by a participant in the meeting, that if the UN "were to decide that Australia were not a reliable country, that of course that industry could be at risk." And who is it that could make the decision to yank the Australian opium licence? The INCB.

Nonetheless, that Australian committee, and every other body of health officials and law enforcers that examined the issue, recommended the trial go ahead. But the opium industry was spooked and, together with the Tasmanian government, lobbied the prime minister to reject the trial. He did.

More recently, Australia has worked on the idea of a "safe-injection site" for heroin addicts. The INCB, as always, interpreted the international treaties in the manner favoured by the U.S. government and concluded this would be in violation of the treaties. The INCB threatened Australia with the loss of its opium licence. It was the same old threat, but this time it was made publicly --something the INCB can do thanks to its aura of international impartiality.

Canada has its own reason to question the relationship between the U.S. government and the INCB. A year ago, the U.S. State Department issued its annual report on the drug situation around the world. In its assessment of Canada, the State Department eerily foreshadowed the INCB report of last week. While the State Department praised Canadian police, it attacked Canadian judges for handing out what it considered soft sentences. It also criticized police funding as inadequate and presented the Holland-on-the-Pacific picture of British Columbia (The report also misspelled the province as "British Colombia," which was either a clever jibe or, more likely, an indication of the author's knowledge about this country.)

For a meddling superpower, this sort of blunt, public criticism isn't especially constructive since the U.S. is, well, a meddling superpower. And that rankles. Robert Metzger, chief judge of the B.C. provincial courts, was so incensed he publicly chided the Americans. "They don't seem to have a handle on their own problems," he told The Vancouver Sun. "I don't see why they should be criticizing us for ours." The federal government conspicuously said nothing.

But what the U.S. government cannot do without causing offence, the INCB can. Thus, the sorry spectacle last week. The INCB simply repeated American criticisms of Canada while lauding American policies. But the INCB attacks, far from offending Canadians, produced Anne McLellan's immediate promise to polish Canada's boots and get marching in the War on Drugs.

Why the federal government reacted so differently to the State Department and INCB criticisms is no mystery. For the Canadian government to be seen acting in thoughtless obedience to American diktats on drug policy would insult Canadian democracy, belittle Canadian sovereignty and tick off a lot of Canadian voters who cling to the idealistic notion that Canadian policies should be decided in Canada. But the government's thoughtless obedience to the INCB's diktats is, to all appearances, a happy demonstration of international co-operation. That the orders in both cases are the same, and ultimately come from the same people in Washington D.C., is mere trivia: This is politics, my fellow Canadians, and in politics appearance is everything.

For Canadians who expect homegrown rationality in their public policy, this confirmation that drug policy is being drafted in Washington D.C. was depressing enough. But further events last week made the government's display of spinelessness all the more wretched.

First, a committee of the European Parliament adopted a report on drug use that came to a blunt conclusion: "Legal sanctions against drug possession and use appear to have no effect whatsoever." The report recommends European nations press ahead in the direction many have already taken -- treating drug use as a matter for health professionals, not police officers. That means making the use and possession of small amounts of drugs de facto legal while concentrating resources on health and social programs to reduce the harms of drug abuse.

And what might that do to rates of drug use? The answer to that was answered in part by another event last week. At a conference in Stockholm, the World Health Organization released a major international survey of teenagers' drug use that found 41 per cent of American teens had used marijuana or hashish, compared to just 16 per cent of European teens. Sixteen per cent of American teens had used amphetamines and 10 per cent had used LSD -- compared to 6 per cent of European teens that had used any illegal drug aside from marijuana. It was just the latest evidence that the United States, after all its vast spending and punitive drug laws, has the highest rate of teen drug use in the world.

Thus, last week not only saw a Canadian minister cravenly take marching orders from Washington D.C. It also saw further proof that the orders coming from the American capital are both useless and destructive. For Canadians who still hope their government may one day abandon dogma and craft a drug policy based on reason and evidence, it was an ugly week indeed.

Dan Gardner is a senior writer with the Citizen.

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