To the Members of the House of Commons Special Committee on Illegal Drugs,
Let me begin by thanking you for undertaking this imposing task and for the
opportunity to address you on this important issue. Why important? Since cannabis prohibition
results in over 30,000 arrests in Canada each year, and as there are over 600,000 Canadians who
currently have a record for the personal possession of marijuana, this is certainly no small
Bill C-38 has the truly unique distinction of being disliked by both prohibitionists and drug
policy reformers alike. It must have been somewhat of a shock to Justice Minister Cauchon that
after he announced the details of this supposed "modernization" of Canada's cannabis policies, not
a single drug policy reform researcher or activist came out in support of what is now widely seen
as a move towards a failed and expensive U.S. style prohibition. To confuse matters more, the right
wing attacked the apparent decriminalization of personal possession that is the centerpiece of this
As a former school teacher, and a current user, distributor, and researcher of therapeutic
cannabis, I can assure you that this bill is of particular concern to the medicinal cannabis
Firstly, by failing to address and put into law the rights to life and freedom of medicinal
cannabis users - as the govt. has been ordered to do by numerous courts, including the Ontario
Court of Appeal in the matter of Terry Parker - the passage of C-38 in its present form will
inevitably result in the continued arrest and prosecution of legitimate medicinal users and
cultivators, which will lead to further court and constitutional challenges to the validity of
cannabis prohibition as a whole.
As we have seen in the de-facto court-ordered legalization that took place in Ontario this
summer, this will result in confusion and consternation on all sides of this drug policy issue.
Secondly, by ignoring the advice of both the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs and the
House of Commons Special Committee on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs to allow for small-scale
personal cultivation of cannabis, this Bill will serve to enhance the profitability of illegal
distribution, and will further entrench black-market control over production and sale of cannabis.
Furthermore, in consideration of a Health Canada sponsored poll which suggests that over to 400,000
Canadians currently claim to be using cannabis for medical reasons, increasing the penalties for
even minor cultivation will result in a net-widening effect that is sure to ensnare legitimate
In addition, imposing tougher penalties for repeat offenders will no doubt worsen the situation
for medicinal users suffering from serious chronic conditions, many of whom depend on the regular
use of therapeutic cannabis to stay alive. It is a sad irony that since many medicinal users are in
a low-income bracket because they are simply too sick to work, they may be the least able to afford
to pay fines for personal use.
Thirdly, it is of questionable logic to allow for police discretion in regards to ticketing or
prosecuting offenders under this law, while also considering mandatory minimums for cultivation at
the judicial level. Since the uneven enforcement of cannabis prohibition is one of the stated
reasons for this reform, it seems counter-intuitive that we would allow for police to act as both
judge and jury in this matter. Even in the famously tolerant province of B.C., cannabis users are 8
times more likely to be charged with personal possession in Victoria than in Vancouver. This kind
of discrepancy is even more substantial when comparing urban and rural enforcement, or when
comparing provincial arrest and prosecution statistics.
But isn't a system of fines a move in the right direction? It might appear so, but when the
territory of South Australia tried a similar experiment in the early 90's, the immediate result was
an increase in police action against cannabis users (during the first year of fines, more than
twice as many tickets were issued than the previous year's total cannabis possession arrests); in
other words, it became a police "cash grab". Since lower income communities are already targeted by
stricter cannabis enforcement, this led to a 45% non-payment of fines. The experiment was
terminated when it was found that more were people coming into the courts under a system of fines
than ever had under prohibition.
In addition, since non-payment of fines under the Contraventions Act can lead to a criminal
record and imprisonment, does this Bill really remove these threats from responsible adult cannabis
Furthermore, by even considering the imposition of mandatory minimums for cultivation, we take
away the power of reason and fairness from the Canadian court system, while moving ever closer to
the failed "war on drugs" mentality of U.S. prohibition, which has resulted in the biggest prison
state the world has ever known, with over 2 million American citizens behind bars. Does it really
seem sensible to turn to a country with the dubious honour of having both the Western worlds most
expensive and draconian drug policies, as well as the highest drug addiction rates in the world,
for guidance in this sovereign matter? Frankly, looking to the U.S. for drug policy advice is like
asking North Korea to help us with human rights legislation.
Better we should turn to our Western European allies for guidance in this important issue. They
have nearly all embraced harm reduction practices, treating drug use as a health and social policy
issue, rather than one of law enforcement and the courts. Almost universally, this means moving
towards the depenalization of personal possession of cannabis. Countries that have recently
decriminalized or legalized personal possession of cannabis include England, Spain, Portugal,
Italy, Luxembourg, Belgium, and, of course, the Netherlands. By contrast, the U.S. zero tolerance
approach has been widely and rightly rejected as overly expensive, and totally ineffective at
reducing the rate of cannabis use.
A concern that is often expressed by drug war zealots is that the true legalization or
decriminalization of cannabis will send the wrong message to our children. As a former school
teacher and childcare worker, I have to wonder what positive message is sent to Canada's youth by
persecuting our sick and suffering for using an herb that by any measure is far less harmful and
addictive than alcohol, tobacco, or many prescription and over-the-counter medicines such as
allergy pills or aspirin. As the U.K. Police Foundation report on the reclassification of cannabis
recently found, the continued prohibition of cannabis inevitably leads to an erosion of respect for
the law as a whole. By arresting or ticketing people who do less harm to either themselves or
society than those who use alcohol or tobacco, we create a system that leads to contempt for all of
our laws, as well as for the police officers saddled with the difficult job of enforcing them.
The Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs' well-researched report detailed legislation that
would protect the legal rights of Canada's sickest citizens, as well as improve access to a safe
supply of medicinal cannabis through its licensed cultivation and distribution by Canada's network
of compassion clubs and societies, who are already helping over 5000 critically and chronically ill
Canadians, and continue to produce more legitimate medicinal cannabis research than Health Canada's
much-criticized Office of Cannabis Medical Access; all at no cost to the taxpayer. Since any true
cannabis reform bill would be meaningless and unworkable without such well-reasoned additions, I
have taken the liberty of including the relevant recommendations from the Senate report on the
hand-out accompanying this presentation.
Canadians have repeatedly expressed a desire for a drug policy that is based on science and
compassion, rather than one guided by fear and misinformation. This Cannabis Reform Bill will
inevitably lead to the arrest of more responsible adult cannabis users - both medical and
recreational, and to the wasting of precious police resources. In the end it will only serve to
increase the cost to Canadian taxpayers of our failed cannabis prohibition, which the Auditor
General of Canada's office has recently estimated to be over $340 million a year.
It's time for the federal government to start listening to Canadian public opinion, to the
wisdom of the courts, and to the good advice of our own Parliamentary Committees, who have been
recommending a relaxation of cannabis laws for over 30 years now. Canadians are ready for the
legalization and regulation of cannabis.
We're ready, and waiting, for a drug peace.
Thank you for this opportunity; I look forward to your questions.