Library >> Evidence
37th PARLIAMENT, 2nd SESSION
Special Committee on the Non-medical Use of Drugs (Bill C-38)
Monday, November 3, 2003
Mr. Philippe Lucas (Director, Canadian for Safe Access)
Mr. Philippe Lucas (Director, Canadian for Safe
Access): Let me begin by thanking you for undertaking this imposing
task, and for the opportunity to address you on this important issue.
Why is this 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 records for the personal possession of
marijuana, this is no small matter.
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 Minister of Justice 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
toward 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 centrepiece of this bill.
As a former schoolteacher 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
First, by failing to address and put into law the
rights to life and freedom of medicinal cannabis users--as the
government has been ordered to do by numerous courts, including the
Ontario Court of Appeal in the matter of Terry Parker--the passage of
Bill C-38 in its present form will inevitably result in the continued
arrest and prosecution of legitimate medicinal users and cultivators.
That 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.
Second, 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--this good committee--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 the production and sale of
Furthermore, in consideration of a Health
Canada-sponsored poll suggesting that over 400,000 Canadians currently
claim to be using cannabis for medical reasons, increasing the
penalties for even minor cultivation will inevitably result in a net
widening effect that is sure to ensnare legitimate medical marijuana
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.
Third, it is of questionable logic, to say the
least, to allow for police discretion in 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 counterintuitive that we would allow the police to act as both
judge and jury in this matter.
Even in the famously tolerant province of B.C.,
cannabis users are eight 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, and
when comparing provincial arrests 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 1990s, 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 the lower income communities
were 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 people were coming into the courts under a system of fines than
ever had under full 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 users?
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 that has resulted
in the biggest prison state the world has ever known, with over two
million American citizens behind bars. Does it really seem sensible to
turn to a country with the dubious honour of having both the western
world's most expensive and draconian drug policies and the highest
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. It
would be better if we turned 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 toward the de-penalization 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 true legalization or decriminalization of cannabis will
send the wrong message to our children. As a former school teacher and
child care 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 United Kingdom 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
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.
They are already helping over 5,000 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 completely unworkable without such well-reasoned
additions, I have taken the liberty of including the relevant
recommendations from the Senate report on the handout that accompanies
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 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 that 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
Original link: http://www.parl.gc.ca/InfoCom/PubDocument.asp?DocumentID=1152705&Language=E#T1550