Marijuana was made illegal 80 years ago in a puritanical panic. The federal government’s solution is to decriminalize marijuana but leave it illegal. It would be wrong to possess marijuana but not as wrong as before. Seem confusing?
There is a better way. Canada’s law courts already have a good start in changing our arcane marijuana laws.
For instance, it’s already legal to possess less than 30 grams of marijuana in Ontario. The recent ruling of the Ontario Superior Court has “effectively erased the criminal prohibition on marijuana possession from the law books in Ontario,” said the lawyer who challenged the law on behalf of a 17-year-old client.
Canadians in Ontario can possess small amounts of marijuana without any legal sanctions – – not even fear of a ticket.
The Ontario court ruling is consistent with other court rulings over the last 3 years. It all started with the case of epileptic Terry Parker. First the court ruled that the Canada’s law violated the constitutional rights of sick people to possess marijuana for medical reasons. Later, other courts ruled that if sick people could possess marijuana then so could all Ontarians.
The Supreme Court of Canada is also very interested in the proposed bill. They suspended hearing a constitutional challenge of Canada’s marijuana laws pending the outcome of new laws.
The federal bill has been hastily constructed as a response to the court challenges. And even if passed, the proposed bill may not withstand subsequent court challenges.
The bill is flawed because it doesn’t address fundamental problems with the old law. For example the new law would criminalize the growing of just one plant but make the possession of marijuana a minor offence. The difference growing and possession could hinge on whether the plant is growing or dead. If the plant is growing you are a criminal and if it is dead, you’ll get a ticket. I see it all now -dramatic court debates determining when a plant ceases to live.
If the Ontario court ruling became the law of the land, then possession of less than 30 grams would have no legal status. Possession would not be criminal or illegal. You could possess it for medical, recreational, or contemplative purposes.
Marijuana has been used for centuries to alter consciousness and achieve spiritual insights. Scientist Dr. Carl Sagan writes “I do not consider myself a religious person in the usual sense, but there is a religious aspect to some highs. The heightened sensitivity in all areas gives me a feeling of communion with my surroundings, both animate and inanimate (1969).”
The religious right in the U.S. Bush administration has a different view of marijuana use. They don’t see it as a gateway to enlightenment but as a gateway to hell. They imagine one toke as being the corruption of our youth and ruin of society.
These kinds of puritanical views from the U.S. got us in the predicament that we are in today. After California enacted anti-marijuana laws in 1915, an epidemic of moral outrage gripped Canadians.
Emily Murphy, the otherwise rational champion of women’s rights in Canada, took her cues from a Los Angles police chief. The chief said that marijuana use drives users “completely insane.”
In 1922, writing under the name “Janey Canuk” for Maclean’s magazine and in a book called “The Black Candle,” she said that users become “raving maniacs and are liable to kill or indulge in any form of violence to other persons, using the most savage methods of cruelty without, as said before, any sense of moral responsibility.” A year later, marijuana was criminalized.
The guardians of North American morals are now in Washington, D.C. They don’t worry about the ruinous effects that legalized booze has on society or carnage on our highways caused by drunk drivers. For the good ol’ boys in the halls of power, “white lightning’s still the biggest thrill of all (Merle Haggard, 1969)”
I hope that the government of Canada’s proposed bill to decriminalize marijuana fails. But even if it passes, I doubt that it will withstand legal challenges any better than the old law did.
The Constitution of Canada would bring a rational resolution to decades old half-baked misconceptions borrowed from the U.S. And not even keepers of North American morality in Washington could criticize a defence of our constitution.