Canadians 'ahead of politicians' on marijuana laws
Canadians are ahead of their federal politicians on the issue of liberalizing marijuana laws, according to two high-profile lawmakers from B.C.
With Californians heading to the polls in November to decide whether possession of a small amount of marijuana should be legal, a similar law in Canada is not likely on the horizon, Liberal Keith Martin and New Democrat Libby Davies told The Province.
Davies, who represents the voters of Vancouver East, favours legalization of marijuana, while Martin, the MP for Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca, has been calling for decriminalizing the controversial drug since 2001.
"I think the public is ahead of where the politicians are," said Davies. "Prohibition has failed. It has created a lot more harm in terms of violence."
Davies said prohibition brings organized crime into the equation.
"For marijuana, it's much better to have a rules-based, evidence-based approach that focuses on health and education."
Davies's position goes further than the federal NDP position, which calls for decriminalization. "The first step should be legalization for personal use," she added. "Beyond that, there's a lot of debate that has to happen."
Martin has introduced a private member's bill to decriminalize marijuana in every parliamentary session since 2001. Under his proposal, "You would receive a fine and you wouldn't receive a criminal record," he said. Martin added he doesn't support people smoking marijuana "because it's harmful.
"But the harm [caused by] our current drug laws is greater than the harm inflicted by [the law] because it's so punitive and destroys a person's future.
"From a medical perspective, alcohol does far more damage and costs more to Canadian society than marijuana does," said Martin, a medical doctor who has worked in emergency wards.
"I had a lot of people who came to emergency who had been drinking and had beaten each other up or drove their cars into other cars and killed themselves or killed other people," he said.
"But I never had anybody who had smoked marijuana and committed those horrible acts of violence."
Martin said he hopes to reintroduce his private member's bill in the next month, but he doesn't expect it will pass.
"Parliament has become more small-c conservative than I've ever seen it. It's moving in the opposite direction to the Canadian public on these issues."
Earlier this week, a report issued by the B.C. Centre of Excellence in HIV/AIDS argued that studies going back 20 years have shown that drug crackdowns usually lead to increased violence.
Lead researcher Dr. Evan Wood, a University of B.C. medical professor, argued that a better approach to law enforcement and longer prison terms would be to change the legal status of illicit drugs and make them available to adults under strict regulations to minimize their use.