After decades of no real progress toward reforming the cannabis laws, historic events culminated in a shift happening throughout the year 2000 that will influence the future direction of cannabis regulation. There are many eyes on Canada right now - watching and waiting as we roll out new policy for the medicinal use of cannabis.
Is it all good news? Hardly. What kind of progress did Canada make in the year 2000 toward restoring the rights of Canadians to sovereignty over their own bodies? And just what is the national mood?
Based on a quick glance at newspaper articles throughout the year, what immediately materializes is a snaphot of a government so out of touch with the will of the people, (and why) and the measures some of those people have been forced to take to maintain their autonomy. The mixed signals given by the government appear to be an attempt to placate two extremes - the USA and the Canadian citizen, but is failing miserably to please either.
It seems the only thing that will move legislators toward the national consensus, (which history may reveal is the closest we have ever been to a consensus on any issue) is the fear of actually losing their jobs for supporting total prohibition of cannabis. A poll published in an article, "TWO-THIRDS FAVOUR DECRIMINALIZING POT" confirmed what many of us suspected all along, 92% of Canadians believe cannabis for medicinal use should be legal. Yet it is still a criminal offence.
Headlines such as, -
"MAKE POT LEGAL, MOST CALLERS SAY" ,- "SUPPORT GROWS FOR LEGALIZED MARIJUANA" and - "MAJORITY OF READERS FAVOR MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION " - were the norm because too many people are being harmed by the law, not the substance, and they know what is the logical solution .
The government seems to also know, as this headline : "ROCK ENDORSES CITIZEN'S VIEW! "contains a comment from Health Minister Allan Rock: "When a reporter asked why, if tobacco is so harmful, the government doesn't just make it illegal to sell or possess it, Mr. Rock rolled his eyes. 'That idea is absurd', he said, 'because, as the American experience with illegal alcohol showed, 'prohibition doesn't work because people will always find a way around it'."
But sadly the same government is so mysteriously reluctant to act as this headline, by-line and quote reveal,
"LIBERALS WON'T CUT GRASS LAW"
The Feds are in no hurry to change the law to allow Canadians to legally fire up a joint. -
"I am not going to move on it anytime soon," McLellan said after giving a speech to the Canadian Police Association, where she announced $20 million in new funding over four years to assist victims of crime.
Finding away around prohibition meant public defiance ,
"POT GROWER WON'T STOP" and mounting pressure by outraged, angry Canadians impacted by the laws. Starting at the beginning of the year, by choosing action over apathy, they provided many of the news stories for the year 2000:
It was going to be an eventful year as January headlines reflect citizens growing bolder in their defiance of the law, "MAN PLANS TO KEEP SMOKING POT, DESPITE CONVICTION",
"PROTEST ROOTED IN POT"
The results of a landmark court decision, "JUDGE ORDERS DISCHARGE IN POT CASE", and individual victories of triumph over oppression, "SICK MAN WINS OK TO SMOKE MARIJUANA", also kick off the year.
In February, the federal government was launching; what it still hopes to prove, is a better idea for providing therapeutic cannabis than already established, citizen-initiated solutions , when "FEDS LEAKED POT LIST NAMES" and the response from those affected, "APPLICANTS FUME OVER POT PLAN PRIVACY"
became fodder for headlines. To add insult to injury, or perhaps jealous that citizens trusted each other more than their elected representatives, a stab is taken at the competition, "MEDICAL MARIJUANA CLUB RAIDED" which wraps up this shameful month .
By March it seems like all-out war,
"GROW-OP PARENTS RISK LOSING KIDS" , as things go from bad to worse for cannabis consumers,"VANCOUVER COPS ON SNIFF ALERT TO WEED OUT GROW OPS"
Headlines in April typify the support citizens can expect from their government,"PATIENT SUES TO OBTAIN 'SAFE' SOURCE OF MEDICINAL POT". This showed once again the lengths Canadians are forced to go if they want the same rights as non-cannabis users to quality of life, and what they are up against, "COPS TURN UP HEAT ON POT ".
May was a historic month as the government publicized the requirements for suppliers wishing to bid for a licence to grow for the government, which predictably received mixed reactions summed up by this headline , "MARIJUANA GROWERS SOUGHT, EXPERIENCED NEED NOT APPLY"
Whether they saw the importance, or merely dismissed it as not worthy of attention, a new citizen initiative to directly deal with cannabis prohibition in a unique way, was publicly acclaimed, "POT ADVOCATE ANNOUNCES CREATION OF MARIJUANA PARTY " that becomes even bigger news as the year unfolds and dissension translates into votes.
By June their US counterparts should be pleased , "RCMP SEIZES MARIJUANA-GROWER'S LAND IN PRECEDENT-SETTING CASE", and relieved, that there is no room for the cannabis cottage industry in the new game, "SUPPLIERS FEEL FRUSTRATED BY MARIJUANA REGULATIONS" the government wants to play.
Score a victory in the courts for the government because although one dissenting judge
"PRISON TIME FOR SMOKING POT VIOLATES CHARTER" disagreed, the B.C. Court of Appeal decided liberty should not be extended to all citizens as it was intended in the Charter, "ILLEGALITY OF MARIJUANA POSSESSION UPHELD" and not just the ill,
"POT GROWER WINS BIG BATTLE FOR MEDICINAL USERS" .
On a more entertaining note, a new documentary entitled "Grass" opened in theatres and was warmly received across the country. Chalk up one more to ingenuity by an enterprising citizen for creating another medium to educate the masses and help eradicate decades of the reefer-madness mentality as the reviews reveal,
"IN THE GARDEN OF WEEDOM".
July was another mixed bag of drug war tactics, "WEST VAN POLICE WANT LANDLORDS TO JOIN WAR ON RENTERS' POT SITES" versus bold citizen initiatives, " CANNABIS COMPASSION CLUB OPENS IN THE QUEEN CITY" .
August began with another historic event from the last day of July duly recorded in headlines which guaranteed the laws would forever change, "MARIJUANA LAW 'UNCONSTITUTIONAL' " .
Perhaps inspired by the government-sanctioned committee that offered 53 recommendations for natural health products which the government accepted in totality, or frustrated by the inept criteria set out for the clinical trials that is devoid of meaningful data needed to help the participants, a national 'umbrella' organization for over 30 cannabis-related organizations and stakeholders known as The Canadian Cannabis Coalition, took it upon themselves to write recommendations for proper clinical trials and publicized their effort, "MARIJUANA ADVOCATES OFFER HEALTH CANADA TIPS ON RESEARCH INTO POT".
In September the government's intentions were juxtaposed to reveal how really self-serving politics can be:
"MPS SEEK DEBATE ON DRUG LEGALIZATION", the by-line, 'The Liberal House leader and the prime minister say it's not for the Commons to decide", showed once again an unwillingness on the government's part to deal with this human rights infraction, but just to appease the masses, "MINISTER ROCK ANNOUNCES INTENTION TO DEVELOP NEW APPROACH FOR THE USE OF MARIHUANA FOR MEDICAL PURPOSES"
Although it sounds positive, "FIRST MEDICAL MARIJUANA CROP HARVESTED", a disgruntled Jim Wakeford, who attempted to sue the government in April for a safe supply of cannabis, appears to see it as a compromise at best.
A by-election in the Okanagan, gives an indication of what to expect when the new kid on the political block will run in the federal election in the upcoming months, "MARIJUANA PARTY'S MESSAGE POPULAR WITH SIGN THIEVES"
By October another scuffle between the law, "'ILLEGAL' MARIJUANA MAGAZINE TO BE SOLD IN FRONT OF POLICE STATION" and activists, "POT PROTESTER BLOWS SMOKE AT POLICE" broke out in print when copies of a national cannabis magazine, Cannabis Culture, ( which coincidentally, the publisher, editor, staff members and some contributors were running in the election at the time), were seized. The tables may turn because to date, the only legal action resulting from this episode may be a lawsuit against officials.
In November, for the first time in Canadian history, 73 candidates running in the federal election, "POT PARTY POLITICS" decided to send an old message in a new way to Ottawa, (perhaps one they could understand) and 65,000 Canadians,
"JOINT EFFORT THRILLS MARIJUANA PARTY", were quite willing to show voter support for a fledgling, total grassroots, one issue party .
Of course that does not mean the war on cannabis is over. Far from it in fact, as other headlines reveal,
"COMPASSION SOCIETY BUSTED AFTER MARIJUANA THEFT" and
"FREE COOKIES FIND NO FRIENDS WITH VICTORIA POLICE"
Another item of interest shows Canadians are always on the vanguard of change in their relentless effort to bring information to the public, Pot-TV Broadcasting Over The Internet
December ended things with another historic event and another strong message to Ottawa with a victory won in an Alberta courtroom as a judge rules partly in favour of persistent activist, Grant Krieger, "JUDGE STRIKES DOWN POT GROWING LAW" and the government announces the new corporate supplier for medicinal cannabis, "OTTAWA HIRES SASKATOON FIRM TO SUPPLY POT"
THE CANADIAN MOOD
"The police enforce cannabis laws with little or no public mandate." Nanaimo News-Bulletin
"Ottawa still believes pot is the demon weed. Everyone else knows better." Edmonton Sun
"But until the legislation against marijuana is repealed, we can't have honest discussion on this point. That isn't the biggest problem with the law - -- the infringement on individual liberty is the main issue -- but it's one more reason for getting rid of it. People must be allowed to talk freely about choices as well as making them freely."
"The fact of the matter is the police and the courts both realize our marijuana laws no longer reflect the wishes of most Canadians; that their enforcement is a waste of resources which could be better deployed elsewhere." London Free Press
"In effect, Canadians have landed in a spot where the law of the land is not supported by the courts, police, public opinion or science. Even Stockwell Day has used pot. What good does this law serve? And when my kids ask me what's wrong with smoking pot, what should I say? " Winnipeg Free Press
In the short term, it is clear the Liberals must quell their urge to micromanage people's lives and control access to health services. Rock must stop playing gatekeeper and legalize the medicinal use of marijuana." Windsor Star
How did our media portray the mood of the country, and what is the main editorial opinion? The papers seem to echo the thoughts of Canadians when it comes to cannabis, and interestingly enough, in, LET'S ADMIT THE DRUG LAW IS A BAD TRIP , the editorial noted that, "While the editorial positions of the Post and, say, the Toronto Star, are frequently miles apart, on this issue both newspapers are in agreement. While the Ottawa Citizen and the Globe and Mail adopt rather different stances on many matters they, too, believe the war on drugs does more harm than good. "
But an analysis of the media from within, "THE STREET VALUE OF CANADIAN JOURNALISM ABOUT THE WAR ON DRUGS" and "REEFER-MAD IN NEWSROOM" shows there is still room for improvement overall.
However, these headlines reflect the national mood:
So why all the caution on the government's part and not just give Canadians what they want? The answer came out time and again in one newspaper quote after another:
"Some wonder whether all this debate will really change anything, because - as a comprehensive series of articles in the Ottawa Citizen, and numerous politicians, have pointed out - the United States threatens to bring economic sanctions against any nation that fails to cooperate with its prosecution of the global drug war. In March of this year, the U.S. State Department chastised Canadian courts for being reluctant to impose tough prison sentences on drug offenders, and many suspect the Yanks would turn on the economic heat if there was any serious talk of legalization in this country." Monday Magazine
"In the same way, were Canada to decriminalize cannabis, the first sound it would probably hear would be an angry yell of protest from Washington, already irate over Canada's annual, multitonne export of high-grade marijuana." Globe and Mail
"As it stands, Young argues the law has only a political purpose -- it protects Ottawa from retaliation by our southern neighbour for whom drugs are a bogeyman. And a drug that's so ubiquitous is a perfect foil for police in chasing other concerns." London Free Press
"The case of a U.S. woman who fled to B.C. after being charged for watering plants at the home of a medicinal marijuana advocate highlights the gap between Canadian values and America's war on drugs". Ottawa Citizen
"All of it, spread over the Internet for all to see, has demystified a lot of the anti-pot propaganda around the world, to the point where only the United States, in increasing isolation, continues to take the hard-line stance.'' Toronto Star
"The U.S. claims that Canadian court decisions favouring medicinal marijuana undermine efforts to quell the continent-wide drug trade, writes Jennifer Campbell.
Canada is angering advocates of the United States government's anti-drug war with its more tolerant policies on the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes and its lighter handling of drug possession convictions.
While the Clinton administration is going full-steam with its zero-tolerance policy on drug use, Canadian courts have ruled in favour of those who use marijuana for medicinal purposes". Ottawa Citizen
"Their model enforcer could be U.S. President Bill Clinton and his war on drugs. Marijuana is on the U.S. list of dangerous substances, though there is no evidence the drug is harmful. It's not farfetched to assume the Americans don't mind leaning on their allies and persuading Canada to crack down on marijuana production". Winnipeg Free Press
Even the American media has picked up on the dilemma facing the Canadian government,
"BRITISH COLUMBIA TOLERATES MARIJUANA IN ITS MIDST"
With Parliament scheduled to return in September, Canada's two national newspapers, The Globe and Mail and The National Post, have editorialized in favor of decriminalizing marijuana for medical uses. On that subject, Canadians, as usual, are cautiously looking at the United States.
"Outright legalization would cause serious trouble with the United States," The Globe and Mail editorialized after the Ontario decision. Calling for decriminalization, a path favored by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the newspaper concluded: "Therefore, Canada should follow its historical nature and take a middle path." The Register-Guard, Sun, 27 Aug 2000 (OREGEON, USA)
The Canadian response:
"They don't seem to have a grip on their problems; I don't see why they should be criticizing us for ours. "I want to say to them: 'Don't talk to me about how to get rid of a drug problem,' " he said. "You hand out long sentences and your jails are full of people, but your problem isn't going away. "If I want to listen to anybody, it would be a country that doesn't have a drug problem, and that has solved their drug problem." .......
"Their whole thing is based on the false premise that if you hand out increased penalties, you will see a reduction in crime," Metzger said. "But we know that isn't the case. If that was, they wouldn't have the highest concentration of prison population in the world." "B.C.. JUDGE TELLS U.S. TO BUTT OUT OF CANADA'S DRUG ENFORCEMENT"
"The question now is whether Canada will have the guts to shed the same prohibitionist philosophy that permeates the hysterical ( and highly unsuccessful ) anti-drug policies of the U.S., and implement a practical drug agenda. " "OUR POT LAWS ACCOMPLISH NOTHING"
Newspapers in the United States have been following some of the trends happening in Canada,
"A NORTHERN BORDER MENACE" Boston Globe, Wed, 26 Apr 2000
"MARIJUANA PARTY SAYS SUCCESS AT POLLS ISN'T MERELY A PIPE DREAM" Miami Herald Mon, 04 Dec 2000
"MEDICAL MARIJUANA IN CANADA"New York Times, Sat, 23 Dec 2000
"CANADIAN BROADCASTER PROMOTES THE HIGH LIFE WITH 'POT-TV' "
The Blade, (OHIO) Mon, 6 Nov 2000
By Debra Harper
Marijuana in the Nineties
Media Awareness Project: 2000 in Review - Canada