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Canadian Marijuana Reform Debate Yields Few Results

Monday, 24 June 1996

Ongoing debates regarding the possibility of marijuana decriminalization in Canada yielded few tangible results as the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs recommended no significant changes be made to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (bill C-8). This legislation is intended to replace the Narcotic Control Act and, according to many Canadian activists, will greatly expand the reach of Canada's illicit drug laws. Bill C-8 will become law when an Order in Council is passed later this year.

The Senate Committee's recommendation shocked many who noted that several of its members had publicly stated that they supported the decriminalization of marijuana. In attempt to explain the Senate's last minute flip-flop, Committee Chair Senator Sharon Carstairs told the Montreal Gazette that the committee members were serious about decriminalization, but felt that such a recommendation would be politically futile at this point. "The majority of the Senators -- and I was with them -- felt all the evidence indicated decriminalization for simple possession [of marijuana] is the way we should be going," she reaffirmed. However, Carstairs said that many committee members believed such a proposal would violate several international treaties that Canada has signed and would have been struck down by the House of Commons.

If there is to be any relief for the cannabis community after the latest round of political debate, it may come by way of an approved amendment by Liberal Senator Lorna Milne that exempts "mature hemp stock" from the definition of marijuana. Although hemp industry proponents note that the passage of the amendment does little to open the door to allow for the widespread cultivation of hemp for commercial purposes, it does remove some of the regulatory restraints (e.g., licensing) that are currently in place regarding hemp fiber and products. "For Canada to develop hemp as an agricultural crop, the mature hemp stalk and the valuable fibre (sic) acquired from it must be free from over-regulation," Milne explained. "Without the amendment, the stalks, fibre (sic) and fibre (sic) products derived from them such as paper, would continue to be treated as though they were narcotic substances, simply due to the definition of the bill."

A staff member for Senator Milne informed NORML that he believes the Canadian government intends to draft a proposal to allow farmers to grow hemp for commercial purposes, but many Canadian activists feel that such legislation is still a long way off. Currently, tests plots of industrial hemp are grown in Canada under strict regulation for research purposes.

For more information on bill C-8, please contact Dana Larsen of Cannabis Canada @ (800) 330-HEMP or visit the website of the Shamai may be contacted via e-mail @: randr@interlog.com.