Those who have known me for many, many, many, many, years know that I have consistently advocated for major reforms to Canada’s drug laws and shifting the perception of drug users as only faceless criminals to that of neighbour, co-worker, or family member either requiring access for legitimate medicinal purposes or in need of compassionate health care, or recreational users, like myself, who require nothing other than to be left to their own devices and sense of personal responsibility, much like those who partake in the use of the socially accepted drug…alcohol.
Over forty years ago, Gerald LeDain was commissioned by the government of Pierre Trudeau to look seriously and scientifically at existing drug laws and possible changes and solutions. All agreed that the status quo was ineffective.
In June 1970 the Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs delivered its interim report, calling for the decriminalization of all drugs. Analysts called it “one of the most politically-explosive documents ever put before the government.”
Many in the country inhaled deeply; some with pleasure, and others with trepidation.
Liberal Health Minister John Munro announced that his government would immediately look at moving marijuana out of the Criminal Code and into the Food and Drug Act. Justice Minister John Turner was blindsided by this announcement, and waxed apoplectic, calling it, among other things, political suicide.
And once again, politics heads its ugly rear and drowned out LeDain’s recommendations about drug education and “wise, informed freedom of choice.” The Liberal government ignored the LeDain commission’s report.
Most of those involved in commissioning or writing the report are long dead. Pierre Trudeau’s son, Justin Trudeau, now calling for the legalization of marijuana, was not even born. If the wheels of justice grind slowly, the wheels of government outright refuse to get into gear.
Within hours of Trudeau the Younger’s announcement that he favours the legalization of marijuana, our current government rummaged about in the basement and dragged out the talking bogeyman doll from the thirties (and forties, and fifties, and sixties, and seventies…) “These drugs are illegal because of the harmful effect they have on users and on society. We will continue protecting the interests of families across this country. Our government has no interest in seeing marijuana legalized or made more easily available to youth.”
Yes, think of the children. And the mandatory minimum sentences handed down to them thanks to changes in the law brought in by the protectors of the family and our children. Say what you will about their attitude, but at least we know where they stand.
In defending such a stance, it requires that the government judiciously ignore decades of peer-reviewed scientific studies, economic analyses, and sociological studies to the contrary. This is, of course, business as usual for the Harper government when their personal ideology is threatened. There are days when I have difficulty distinguishing the Harper Conservatives from Doctor Who’s arch-nemesis, the Daleks. Perhaps a re-branding is in order.
So we know where the Dalek Party of Canada stands (welcome to the 1930s). We now know where the Liberal Party of Canada stands (welcome to the 1970s), and we know the Greens have always advocated positively for drug law reform, especially marijuana. The NDP say yes, their Leader says no, then maybe, so we remain uncertain where they stand. It appears to be a day to day thing, after checking wind direction.
All of this is moot at the moment. The party of No is in power. The parties of Yes and maybe are in Opposition. The real question worth asking is: If a party of Yes comes to power in the next election, will these changes come to fruition? Or will they be subject to a multi-year study whose recommendations will be ignored? Will it be an election platform issue, or will it be buried in the someday in the future file?
Mr. Trudeau, you have taken a small but significant step on the path. Well done. How you proceed will be subjected to public scrutiny. Words must become actions. Actions must be clear. Many of us have waited over forty years for some sort of action.
I hope you will forgive me if I don’t hold my breath.
Some salient points from the original LeDain Commission:
• The LeDain commission’s 320-page interim report argued that nobody should go to jail for possession of psychotropic drugs. But it did not recommend outright legalization because there had not been enough clinical study or public debate on the subject.
• The commission justified the decriminalization of hard drugs as well as marijuana because they felt that penalties for possession should not be based on how harmful a drug is to the user.
• The LeDain commission said drugs are so pervasive in Canada that government strategy should focus on frank drug education, not suppression. Chapter two of the interim report was an explicit explanation of what various drugs do — including any positive aspects. The commission argued that a careful, scientific explanation of the whole truth was the only responsible approach to drug education and worth the risk of sparking interest in drug experimentation.
• In the year following the release of the interim report, the commission studied drug education, treatment for drug abusers, and the costs of current drug law enforcement. The first report, on treatment, was published in January 1972. It included a first aid manual for treating drug users that was sent to every doctor in Canada. But many doctors saw this as an attack on their profession.
• The commission’s final report was delivered in June 1972. The five members of the commission were split on the recommendations. The majority position was held by LeDain, Heinz Lehmann and J. Peter Stein. They argued that marijuana possession should be decriminalized because the law enforcement costs of attempting to prohibit it were too great. They said they hoped this would not promote marijuana use, but admitted this might be an incidental effect of decriminalization.
• Two members of the commission dissented. Marie-Andrée Bertrand thought the government should go further and provide a legal source for marijuana distribution. On the other hand, Ian Campbell felt the majority recommendation would be seen as an endorsement of the safety of marijuana and would result in increased use.