Canada To End Criminal Penalties For PotJustice Minister Promises Legal Change May Be Only Four Months Away

Ottawa, Ontario:  Canada could do away with criminal penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use as early as next spring, according to statements made Monday by Justice Minister Martin Cauchon.  Cauchon’s statements come just days before the release of a special House of Common’s report on marijuana policy.  That report, to be released Thursday, is expected to recommend Parliament decriminalize the use and cultivation of marijuana for personal use.

“If we talk about the question of decriminalizing marijuana, we may move ahead quickly as a government,” Cauchon told The Canadian Press Monday.  “I don’t like to give you a date or a time frame, but let’s say … the first four month of next year.”

Thursday’s House of Common’s special committee report is the second Canadian Parliament report this year recommending Ottawa overhaul it’s pot policies.  A previous study by the Senate’s Special Committee on Illegal Drugs recommended Parliament regulate the use and distribution of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes for those over 16 years old.

The House’s recommendations are expected to be more conservative.  Canadian newspaper sources report that the committee will likely back decriminalizing 30 grams or less of marijuana, as well as the cultivation of pot for personal use.

Under decriminalization, persons found with small amounts of pot would receive an administrative fine, but would not be subject to arrest or a criminal record.  Twelve U.S. states have enacted similar policies.

NORML Executive Director Keith Stroup endorsed Canada’s proposed policy change, saying that Cauchon’s statements are “an acknowledgement that criminal marijuana prohibition is more damaging to society than the responsible use of marijuana itself.  This message from Canada is one that our federal government will not be able to ignore.”

According to a recent CNN/Time Magazine poll, 72 percent of Americans would support a similar marijuana decriminalization policy in the U.S.  “The American public recognizes that adults who smoke marijuana responsibly are not criminals and they do not want to spend our nation’s limited police resources arresting and jailing them,” Stroup said.

U.S. law enforcement spends an estimated $7.5 to $10 billion annually enforcing marijuana laws, Stroup added, noting that more than 720,000 Americans were arrested on marijuana charges last year, according to the FBI – a figure far larger than the total number of all Canadians who have ever received a criminal record for marijuana.

For more information, please contact either Keith Stroup or Paul Armentano of NORML at (202) 483-5500.