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VANCOUVER -- "Legalize Pot!" -- the rallying cry of pro-cannabis crusaders across the country -- may soon be official policy for Canada's third-largest city.
A wide-ranging city report on drug prevention strategies released yesterday calls for marijuana to be legalized and regulated, much in the manner of alcohol and tobacco.
The recommendation, which goes far beyond Ottawa's proposal to decriminalize the drug, was enthusiastically endorsed by Mayor Larry Campbell. "We're talking about a $3-billion industry in this province. Tax the living hell out of it and put the revenue into health care," Mr. Campbell said.
More importantly, he added, legalizing marijuana will enable educators to talk realistically to young people about the dangers of drug use, as they now do about the harmful effects of drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes. "We can't do the Cheech and Chong routine any more. We've got to be honest with these people," said Mr. Campbell, who is a former member of the RCMP's drug enforcement unit.
"There's no sense in me, as a Mountie, going into a school and saying: 'You know what? If you do marijuana, you're going to become a heroin addict.' "
After all, students see the captain of the football team, a guy in the school band, or a top scholastic student, "and they know that these people may have smoked marijuana and they didn't grow horns and they aren't shooting heroin," Mr. Campbell said.
He noted that alcohol and tobacco use is declining among young people as health and addiction experts learn how to more effectively communicate the dangers involved in using those substances.
"The same thing will happen with marijuana. And at the end of the day, how many marijuana addicts do you have, anyway?"
The mayor's advocacy for legalizing pot brought a quick, hostile response from Staff-Sergeant Chuck Doucette of the RCMP, regional co-ordinator for the force's Drug Awareness Service in British Columbia and the Yukon.
"It still amazes me that Mayor Campbell can continue with the idea that legalizing marijuana will help," Staff Sgt. Doucette said. "Legalizing is giving up. Instead of giving up, let's start the fight. Let's start proper prevention. And the black market for marijuana will not change, whether it's legal or not."
Mr. Campbell spoke at a news conference packed with cameras and reporters enticed by the thought of laid-back Vancouver endorsing legalized pot. He said the federal government's suggested decriminalization of marijuana won't do the job.
While convicted users may avoid a criminal record, decriminalization gives a green light to criminally run marijuana grow-ops, since pot will still be illegal, Mr. Campbell said.
"We would be saying to people: 'It's okay that you do this [use marijuana].' And we'd be saying to criminals: 'Fill your boots.' "
When asked how legalizing marijuana would actually help prevent use, Mr. Campbell said: "It will allow us to control a drug that at the present time is not being controlled. It's out there and we can't do anything about it.
"By controlling how it's used and who gets it, we can start building a base to help those who might otherwise move on to harder drugs. Right now, we have no control over that whatsoever."
In Ottawa, federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler said there is no chance the federal government will embrace legalization.
"We have chosen as a policy option the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana for personal use," he said. "We don't want to go down the route of legalization."
Local police, meanwhile, distanced themselves from the views of Staff Sgt. Doucette. Inspector Scott Thompson, drug policy co-ordinator for the Vancouver Police Department, said he wanted to remain neutral on the issue.
Tim Stockwell of the B.C. Centre for Addictions Research said data have shown that neither decriminalization nor legalization is likely to increase marijuana use. And, at the same time, they would both remove "certain social harms and injustices."
The recommendation to remove marijuana use from the Criminal Code was only one of 24 recommendations contained in the drug prevention blueprint, to be presented to city council next Tuesday.
Mr. Campbell acknowledged this particular recommendation was "the sexy one," but urged a reading of the entire report that includes many "ground-breaking" social measures aimed at curbing the city's devastating scourge of drug addiction.
Updated:Thursday, 09-Jun-2005 10:09:54 PDT| Accessed:34042times