Niagara candidates talk pot
By Maryanne Firth, St. Catharines Standard
It’s been a burning topic for years — whether or not to legalize marijuana.
In the wake of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s commitment earlier this week to strengthen Canada’s anti-drug strategy after the election, a handful of local candidates weighed in on the subject that is creating buzz across the country.
“I am certainly not in favour of scrapping our current legislation,” St. Catharines Conservative incumbent Rick Dykstra said, while siding with his party’s move to pledge further funding to combat illicit drug use.
All research, he said, points to marijuana as a “dangerous drug” that is both addictive and has the potential to end up in the hands of Canadian youths.
Dykstra called it critical to “get to young people early” to prevent them from trying illegal substances.
“This is not something we need to be reactive to, but proactive on.”
The Tories have committed an additional $5 million to boost the anti-drug strategy. The money would be used for a national help line and to boost RCMP enforcement.
While Dykstra is opposed to the legalization of cannabis, the one area he’s “open to discussing” is an adjustment to enforcement.
“(Marijuana offences) clogging up our courts is something we could work to end,” he said, adding he would be willing to look at offenders facing consequences that do not require a court appearance.
Chris Bittle, the St. Catharines Liberal candidate, believes the government’s existing cannabis policies have been a “complete failure,” with drug use remaining too high, particularly among teens.
He said he supports his party’s “sound plan” to legalize marijuana, as he believes regulating its use will help prevent it from getting into the hands of underaged citizens.
“Currently 28% of Canadian teenagers have used marijuana. That’s more than anywhere in the developed world,” Bittle said, citing a UNICEF report.
Legalization will benefit the country, he said, by providing increased tax revenue and allowing police to focus efforts on more serious crimes.
For Malcolm Allen, the best move ahead is to decriminalize cannabis.
The Niagara Centre NDP incumbent wants to see individuals caught in possession of marijuana issued a ticket, rather than a criminal charge.
Being “caught with joints” and landing a record can impede future employment, Allen said. It can also result in a years-long wait to apply for a pardon to have that record removed.
“This way, you don’t end up with a criminal record and it doesn’t ruin someone’s life.”
But Allen doesn’t believe it’s justifiable, at this point, to legalize cannabis.
“We’d be going from one extreme to another. I think decriminalizing is the next step.”
Niagara Falls Green Party candidate Steven Soos believes legalization is where Canada should be headed.
“We want to remove marijuana from the drug schedule and create a regulatory framework for production,” he said in agreement with his party’s policies.
Legalization will “benefit small, independent growers,” he said, calling the move a “good idea for local agricultural development.”
“We’ll establish the sale of marijuana to adults through licensed distribution outlets,” Soos said, which will “directly support small businesses.
“(Marijuana) would be sold in a sanctioned environment, like The Beer Store.”
A public education campaign would inform Canadians of the drug’s health risks, he said, and ads would be run similar to those seen for tobacco.
Niagara Regional Police are not in favour of the decriminalization or legalization of marijuana, said Deputy Chief Bryan MacCulloch.
He does, however, believe there is “another enforcement option” that should be available to officers, such as ticketing when a small amount is found in a person’s possession.
Regardless, the NRP believe “illicit use of marijuana has a negative impact on public safety and the health of young persons,” he said.
Rob Thibault, a member of the Niagara Cannabis Club, said the organization is “pro-legalization” due mainly to the medical benefits of marijuana.
“We have a stance of waiting and seeing,” he said, adding he has little confidence that any action will be taken to change the legislation following the federal election, regardless of the outcome.
Thibault credited marijuana for helping him get his life on track by easing his chronic pain.
“The big change in my life was cannabis. It can change people’s lives.”
The move to legalize is not one Community Addiction Services of Niagara supports.
“Typically, the more available a substance is, the more problems you see in the vulnerable population,” chief executive officer Lisa Panetta said.
While not all people, youths included, develop a problem with marijuana, some do, she said.
“We do see it as a problem here with many of our clients.”
One of the biggest issues surrounding cannabis at CASN is “around motivation and its long-term effects on motivation,” Panetta said.
“It’s a slower road to consequences than with some other drugs.”
Panetta does not believe “sound research for legalizing cannabis” has been produced.
Asked about the decriminalization of the drug, she said the organization notes “criminalizing an addictive behaviour doesn’t necessarily help a person to get better.”
Article source Welland Tribute