UPDATED March 6, 2014
While the Conservative Party is busy running attack ads about Justin Trudeau’s marijuana policy of legalization and regulation, several American states are doing just that. Having recovered from the moral panic of the last 60 years, Washington and Colorado are heading toward sane drug policies. State after state is moving forward with similar reforms.
Decriminalization, legalization and medical marijuana programs are being proposed all over the country. Impressively, these changes are coming across the political spectrum. Just as we showed the Americans there is nothing to fear from letting gay people marry, our drug-addicted neighbours are reforming punitive drug laws.
The problems with criminalizing marijuana possession are well-known. Marijuana is almost as popular as alcohol. Kids use it. Old people use it. Many otherwise law-abiding Canadian citizens smoke or have smoked marijuana. A possession of marijuana charge introduces law-abiding taxpayers into the criminal justice machine. They spend money defending themselves. They might end up with a criminal record, affecting employment and travel to certain countries. Even if the charge is eventually withdrawn, their police record will forever show the charge. Employment checks will always run the risk of disclosing a stain that reflects “wrongdoing” that is no more anti-social than drinking alcohol or speeding. Unlawful? Yes. Criminal? Hardly.
Marijuana is a “gateway” drug for young people to get in trouble with the law: the police can use the smell of marijuana as a basis for detaining and searching a person in the hopes of finding the hidden stash (or something bigger and better). In a world where marijuana is regulated but not illegal these stops could become less adversarial.
Poochy possession charges also clog up criminal courts, which already move at an unsustainably slow pace. Getting rid of these charges would let the courts deal with more significant matters faster. Insiders know that it is the little stuff that damages the reputation of the justice system. As put by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, we need an alternative to the current “onerous and expensive” way of dealing with marijuana possession.
The federal government is demonstrably preoccupied with giving us an American-style justice system. Implacable sentencing laws and a mistrust of judges are the centerpiece of this strategy. We could use a little American-style progress to help offset the stern and rigid rules which are proven failures.
UPDATE: After watching the Canadian public react with confusion and annoyance at its insistence on rigid rules, this week the government announced it is examining leniency as an option. Stay tuned.