August 3, 2001
Narco News 2001
By Alejandro Bustos
TORONTO - Many Canadians
consider it a given
that marijuana will eventually be decriminalized here. Unlike
the United States, which is addicted to the drug war, Canada
is making steady progress in reforming its narcotics laws.
This shift towards reform
has been taking place for several years now, and can be seen
on several fronts.
The most recent development
is Ottawa's decision to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes.
The new law, which came into effect July 30, allows severely
ill patients with a doctor's approval to apply to Health Canada
to grow and use marijuana. In sharp contrast, the U.S. Supreme
Court voted 8-0 this past May that there is "no accepted
medical use" for pot.
The difference between
Washington and Ottawa has been noted abroad. The day after Ottawa's
medical marijuana law came into effect, the respected Mexican
daily La Jornada noted that the attitude in Canada, "contrasted
with the situation in the United States." Radio Formula
1500 AM in Mexico City also extensively covered the new Canadian
A second factor driving
Canada's drug reform efforts is its relatively Liberal view on
In the United States,
the last two presidents have given embarrassing answers when
asked if they have ever used drugs. Bill Clinton said he puffed
but didn't inhale; George W. Bush has completely dodged the issue,
claiming his "irresponsible" actions as a youth are
North of the U.S. border,
however, politicians routinely admit to having tried drugs. Of
the five political parties in the House of Commons, the leaders
of three - the New Democratic Party, the Alliance and the Bloc
Quebecois - have admitted to taking a puff or two as youths.
The fourth party leader,
Joe Clark of the Progressive Conservatives, said he would decriminalize
pot during his brief stint as prime minister in 1979-80. Clark's
minority government was kicked out of office by a non-confidence
vote before it could pass its pro-marijuana law.
Meanwhile, Liberal Prime
Minister Jean Chretien, along with his Justice and Health ministers,
has said he welcomes a debate on decriminalization. In fact,
prior to the summer Parliamentary recess, all five parties in
the Commons voted unanimously to establish a committee into the
use of non-medical drugs. The committee is expected to look at
the issues of decriminalization and legalization.
A Senate committee is
already looking at the issue of illegal drugs. The chairman of
that committee, Senator Pierre-Claude Nolin, is in favour of
A third factor is the
large amount of public support for legalizing pot. A Leger Marketing
poll this past June, for instance, found that 46.8 per cent of
Canadians were in favour of legalization. In the provinces of
Quebec and British Columbia, more than 50 per cent were in favour.
Interestingly, a Canadian
Press story on the poll focused on the fact that a majority of
Canadians were not in favour of legalization. "What this
poll suggest is that the government doesn't necessarily have
a blank cheque," Jean-Marc Leger, president of Leger Marketing,
was quoted as saying.
In the U.S., chances are
high a reporter would focus on the high number of people advocating
Drug reform advocates
in Canada and the U.S. also focus on different aspects when asked
about Ottawa's drug law reforms.
Canadian laws "are
not as repressive as Sweden," Eugene Oscapella, a lawyer
and founding member of the pro-reform group Canadian Foundation
for Drug Policy, told me. "But we are far behind countries
like Portugal, Spain, Italy and Belgium."
A new law in Portugal,
which came into effect July 1, has decriminalized the use of
all drugs, from cannabis to crack.
In contrast, Ethan Nadelmann,
executive director of the U.S.-based Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy
Foundation, fully praised Canada.
"The bottom line
is that Canada is pulling away from the U.S. and moving towards
the European model," he said in an interview.
These two quotes reveal
a lot about how Washington and Ottawa handle the drug issue.
For a U.S. citizen used to an insane anti-drug jihad, Canada
is a breath of fresh air. But for a Canadian, who is accustomed
to a more rational approach , the new medical marijuana law is
only the beginning.
Alejandro Bustos is a
25-year-old journalist. He has worked for the Canadian Press
as reporter/editor for both the Ontario and World Desks. In September,
he will attend law school at the Univerity of British Columbia
in Vancouver, while continuing to write journalist on the side.
Gallops Toward Reform from North and South