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Political debate over marijuana legalization heats up

 photo by Julie Oliver/Ottawa Citizen 

The political debate over marijuana legalization in Canada could soon intensify, following a New York Times editorial that calls for the U.S. federal government to repeal its 44-year ban on pot.

The influential newspaper, which says the question of legalization should be left up to individual U.S. states, is running a six-day series on the issue, and has reignited a hot debate among Americans.

It concluded that the ban has inflicted “great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol.”

The editorial comes as some U.S. states reform pot laws. Marijuana for recreational use went on sale in Colorado Jan. 1 and Washington followed suit this month. Oregon and Alaska will vote on the matter in November.

Nonetheless, because a federal ban on the drug is still on the books, those states that legalize it do so in direct contravention of federal law.

Here in Canada, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau favours a system of legalization that regulates the sale of pot and keeps it out of the hands of minors.

The Liberals argue it’s a “smarter” way to dealing with the issue because it would take away the pot market from organized crime and gangs, while also ensuring a better system of addressing the effects of marijuana use on individual health and communities.

Deputy Liberal leader Ralph Goodale said in an interview Monday that he welcomes the New York Times editorial.

“It’s one more serious comment with a lot of intellectual heft behind it that makes the point that the current regime of absolute prohibition doesn’t work.”

Most notably, he said, the central objective of keeping pot from youths is not working.

“All of the profit is ending up in the hands of gangs and society is no healthier and no safer. So surely there is room for intelligent discussion about how to do it better.”

But the governing Conservatives are firmly against legalization and have claimed in flyers distributed in some ridings that Trudeau wants to make marijuana available to kids — an example, they say, of why he lacks judgment to be prime minister.

The issue is slowly bubbling away and could emerge as a hot issue in next year’s federal election.

“Unlike Justin Trudeau, who wants to make marijuana easily available to our children, we have passed laws to crack down on those who sell drugs near schools,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s press secretary, Carl Vallee, said in a written statement Monday.

“We do not support making access to illegal drugs easier.”

Goodale struck back at the Tories for alleging that Trudeau wants to make pot more accessible for youths.

“That’s their political spin and it’s a lie. I suppose they think that if they spin that lie loud enough and long enough there will be people who believe it.”

In 2012, legislation came into force that includes a mandatory six-month jail term for growing as few as six marijuana plants for the purpose of trafficking, and two years in prison for those caught trafficking near a school.

Justice Minister Peter MacKay is considering a proposal from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police to allow police officers to issue tickets to people caught with small amounts of marijuana.

But that’s as far as the Tories seem prepared to go on softening the law.

“Contrary to the opposition parties who can’t get their heads wrapped around sound policy, our government has been very clear — we have no intention of legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana,” said Mary Ann Dewey-Plante, the director of communications to MacKay.

Earlier this month, Harper told supporters in Calgary that he will ask voters in next year’s election to take a hard look at what Trudeau is offering them. He suggested Trudeau wants voters to “close their eyes” and dream.

“Don’t like crime? Just legalize marijuana and somehow it will all go away,” said the prime minister.

In 2012, the Liberals passed a resolution at their convention in favour of legalization.

According to that resolution on marijuana, the government should “ensure the regulation and taxation of its production, distribution, and use, while enacting strict penalties for illegal trafficking, illegal importation and exportation, and impaired driving.”

The party also wants programs to promote awareness of the health and dependency risks of marijuana, especially amongst youth.

Since then, Trudeau has become party leader and has indicated he supports legalization.


Article source Ottawa Citizen

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