David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 10/10/03
Chretien explained in an interview with the Winnipeg Free Press not only that decriminalization in his view merely formalized the current practice, but even commented that he might try it sometime himself. Chretien said, "I don't know what is marijuana. Perhaps I will try it when it will no longer be criminal. I will have my money for my fine and a joint in the other hand."
During the same one week period, US drug czar fumed once again against Canadian drug law liberalization steps such as decriminalization, safe injection sites and medical marijuana. But Canada's justice minister wasn't having any of it either. Martin Cauchon noted that ten states within the US itself have enacted decriminalization schemes.
Unlike the Walters ideologues controlling federal anti-drug propaganda machinery south of the US-Canadian border, Chretien and Cauchon, as many of their north of the border colleagues, are realists. They understand the war on drugs does more harm than good. The boldest, such as Sen. Claude Nolin or MP Libby Davies, even overtly call for ending drug prohibition. Canadian parents don't truly want their children jailed or saddled with criminal records because of personal behavioral choices that apparently are in many cases at least relatively safe. And the marijuana industry itself is too deeply ensconced, certainly in British Columbia, to be effectively rooted out without massive political, social and economic turmoil.
Not that the situation is without some political risk of backsliding. Many marijuana reform advocates in the 1970s were convinced that legalization, not mere decriminalization, was around the corner, and for apparently good reason: The president of the United States himself, Jimmy Carter, seemed solidly behind at least decriminalization. In a 1977 speech, Carter commented, "Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself. Therefore, I support legislation amending federal law to eliminate all federal criminal penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana."
Just as Chretien's remarks have no doubt prompted amused commentary in Canada, Carter's policy statement was the subject of joking around here in the US. I remember as a child hearing one late night talk show host, I'm not sure which one, saying, "more than an ounce of marijuana is bad, but less than an ounce is goooooood." Nevertheless, the Carter drug reform trial balloon ended up going south, 1980 brought us the "Reagan Revolution," and the drug war in its current form began to escalate.
But something tells me that in Canada this time it's serious. I could be wrong, but I don't think I am. Just as it took Soviet tanks to turn back Czechoslovakia's "Prague Spring" experiment with freedom in 1968, it might well require interventions of that drastic a level to reverse Canada's turn toward freedom in drug policy here in the early 00's. And while John Walters may well fantasize about sending US tanks to Ottawa, that's just not going to happen. Well, I guess nothing is certain these days. But I don't think it's going to happen.
Ontario's brief summer of legalization is over, at least for now. But Canada's long summer of sane drug policy is just beginning -- and if you like what you've seen so far, you'll be blown away by what's coming up.