Press Release  | 09/04/2002

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

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United States Increasingly Isolated in Zero-Tolerance Stance

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.

In its extensive report, the Special Committee suggests a number of specific initiatives for implementing its recommendations such as:

  • creation of a National Advisor on Psychoactive Substances and Dependency within the Privy Council Office;
  • a high-level conference of key stakeholders from the provinces, territories, municipalities and associations in 2003 to set goals and priorities for action;
  • creation of a Canadian Centre on Psychoactive Substances and Dependency with a strong, clear mandate, adequately funded and reporting to Parliament and with a Monitoring Agency on Psychoactive Substances and Dependency to conduct studies with the provinces and territories and table a bi-annual report on drug-use trends and emerging problems;
  • amendments to the Marijuana Medical Access Regulations to provide new rules regarding eligibility, availability, production and distribution with respect to cannabis for therapeutic purposes;
  • amendment to the Criminal Code to lower permitted alcohol levels to 40 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood in the presence of other drugs, especially, but not exclusively cannabis; and
  • Canada seeking amendments to United Nations conventions and treaties governing illegal drugs and supporting the development of a Drugs and Dependency Monitoring Agency for the Americas.

The Committee also examined the international obligations and repercussions of Canada's cannabis policies as well as approaches taken by other countries. It studied the impact of more liberal policy approaches to cannabis in countries such as the Netherlands, Switzerland and Spain along with more restrictive policies such as Sweden, France or the United States. There is a clear international trend to reassessing domestic drug policy such as recent initiatives toward decriminalization in the United Kingdom. Deputy Chair Senator Colin Kenny points out that "though what we are recommending for our country has an impact on our friends and neighbours, Canada must make its own decisions in the best interests of its citizens."

"This should be a wake up call to the United States," said Nadelmann. "Our northern neighbors are recommending public health before politics. They recognize that cigarettes and alcohol are more dangerous than marijuana. It's time to put an end to the hypocrisy in America."

The Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs is chaired by Senator Pierre Claude Nolin with Senator Colin Kenny as deputy-chair. Also serving on the Committee are Senators Tommy Banks, Shirley Maheu and Eileen Rossiter. The Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs maintains an Internet web site at www.parl.gc.ca/illegal-drugs.asp where proceedings, testimony, research, general information and its report can be found. The complete report can be found at www.parl.gc.ca/37/1/parlbus/commbus/senate/com-e/ille-e/rep-e/summary-e.pdf.

For further information:

David Newman
Phone: (613) 836-6039
Mobile: (613) 795-1739
E-mail: dnewman [at] sympatico [dot] ca

Jean-Guy Desgagn

Tony Newman at 510-208-7711 or Josie Wulsin at 212-548-0383

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