Canadian Health Minister Allan Rock said last week that he supports a forthcoming parliamentary inquiry into the country's marijuana laws and that he has an "open mind" about what they may propose.
"Of course we will pay close attention to what they recommend," Rock told reporters in Flin Flon, Manitoba, as he visited an underground mine where the first government-sanctioned marijuana crop is being grown. "I think [legalization or decriminalization] is a question worth examining," said Rock. "They might look at that option, they might look at other options. I don't know, and I've got to tell you, I've got an open mind."
A House of Commons special committee will this fall hold hearings on marijuana law reform at various locations across the country.
Rock told reporters that when he was federal justice minister it was his job to pay lawyers to prosecute marijuana crimes, even though many prosecutions were against "young kids" in possession of small amounts. "The question often arose as to whether that was a good use of dollars, whether it's a good use of the criminal justice system, and whether some other approach might be taken which would reflect society's views, perhaps differently," said Rock.
"I think there's a lot to think about here. I'm glad the committee is going to be working on it. I'm glad that people are going to be asking these questions and looking at different approaches. I think it's time for a discussion in Canada about all this, and I look forward to the results," Rock continued.
The health minister hinted that he might favor decriminalization, or treating possession cases like traffic offenses, where offenders would be ticketed and fined rather than arrested and being saddled with a criminal history.
As for US displeasure with moves toward marijuana reform, Rock was unconcerned. "We are going our own road on this," he said. "We are Canadians. We have made our own judgment. We are reflecting our own values. I will look first to Canadian needs and interests, rather than opinions of others around the world," he said.
The marijuana being grown at Flin Flon, some 3,000 plants, will yield 185 kilograms of smokable weed this year and 450 kilos per year for the next four years. Prairie Plant Systems of Saskatoon was awarded a $4 million contract to produce a government supply, which will be used for research and distributed to registered medical marijuana patients under new, less restrictive, rules that went into effect at the beginning of this month. Under the new rules, patients must be seriously ill and must convince a physician that no other medicine works as well for their ailment.
According to pool reporters who accompanied Rock into the mine turned pot plantation, a new sign at the entrance to the underground greenhouse named the operation in honor of the health minister. "The Rock Garden," it read.
Rock, a baby boomer who once invited John Lennon to Ottawa for a peace conference, has as much as admitted his own past use of the drug. "As a former attorney-general of Canada, I'm keenly aware that there's a right against self-incrimination in this country," he once replied to a question about his own marijuana use. "I fully intend to invoke that right."