Canadians suggest legalizing marijuana, Detroit worried

D By Pete Hayes

The South End
Wayne State University

dETROIT, Oct. 1 – In early September, the Special Committee on Illegal Drugs of the Canadian parliamentary senate released a report saying that marijuana use should be legalized for adults.

“The committee recommends that cannabis should be from here on in legal and of restricted use, so that Canadians can choose whether to consume or not in security,” said Sen. Pierre Claude Nolin, chair of the committee.

The report stated, among other things, drug policy should focus on harm reduction, prevention and treatment; the government should wipe clean the records of anyone convicted of marijuana possession; and there is no good reason pot smokers should be subject to criminal law.

“In many ways prohibition is a cop-out,” Nolin said.

The committee concluded that cannabis is less harmful than alcohol, and rejected the idea that smoking pot leads to harder drugs.

This item caused an uproar in Detroit. If Canada legalized dope smoking, it would send Michigan residents across the border into Canada to use the drug, which has been outlawed in the United States since the 1930s. Drug-control advocates were fearful, but this sentiment was not shared in Detroit’s cultural center.

John Sinclair, a former Wayne State University instructor, WDET radio personality, dope activist and poet who has performed at the Detroit Festival of the Arts and at the Scarab Club, commented that it was about time to legalize drugs. Then he lit what he termed to be “a felonious cigarette” and shared it with some old friends.

Nolan Finley, editorial page editor of the Detroit News came out in favor of legalizing pot.

“Canada’s flirtation with legalization is pragmatic,” he wrote. “No matter what it has done to curb marijuana cultivation and use, the people there still choose to smoke pot. And so do the people here. Roughly 10 million Americans use marijuana on a regular basis.”

Even before the senate report, here was strong support in Canada for decriminalizing marijuana. The move is supported by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the Canadian Medical Association and Justice Minister Martin Cauchon.

Decriminalization is not the same as legalization. The former would reduce the penalty for getting caught with the drug to the equivalent of a traffic ticket. Legalization would permit the open sale and use of marijuana without any legal consequence whatsoever.

In early September, John Walters, a federal drug law enforcer, visited Detroit and Lansing, and spoke out about the dangers of smoking pot.

“You don’t make a major decision involving a dangerous drug without telling people what the dangers are,” Walters said. “Marijuana is not harmless. Marijuana is not medicine. I wish it were, but it isn’t.”

In California, where a legal medicinal marijuana statute has been on the books for a number of years, agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration raided a marijuana farm near Santa Cruz. They arrested the owners, Valerie and Michael Corral. This was no ordinary drug bust. The Corals helped write the 1996 law that allows patients and their care givers the right to consume or dispense marijuana for the medicinal use. They were growing the plants for a medical users group.

In Canada, cannabis can be legally cultivated and consumed for medicinal purposes. Despite the law medical marijuana is not available across the bridge. Mary Lynn Becker, public affairs director for the Canadian Counselor General’s Office in Detroit explained that since cannabis is being used as medicine, the distribution of the seeds or the plants to qualified patients is worked out by the provincial governments — different in Ontario than it would be in Nova Scotia — and the system has not been established.

While not discounting the value of the Canadian senate’s report and recommendations, Becker said that it would likely be years before legal cannabis is available for consumption in Windsor.

As if to underscore the point, the drug enforcement czar met with Canadian officials to lobby against any effort at liberalizing drug laws. His agency and the office of homeland security have beefed up efforts at the U.S.-Canada border.

“American drug users are contributors to terrorism,” Walters said, citing the funneling of drug profits to violent groups in Mexico and Colombia.

Walters told his audience that if Canada decriminalized or legalized marijuana use, the United States might take additional actions at the Detroit-Windsor tunnel and at the Ambassador and Blue Water bridges, but he declined to elaborate what those additional actions might be.

A WSU adjunct professor in English and woman’s studies, Nicole Newton and her doctors would like her to use medicinal marijuana for controlling pain.

“For me, smoking a good sativa marijuana cigarette releases my neuro-muscular tension,” she said. “It keeps me from feeling like a contorted cripple. Unfortunately, I don’t smoke anymore because of the legal risk. Laws are so disproportionate to the crime that I literally choose between feeling like a truck ran me over everyday and possible imprisonment.

“Does that seem right?”