Source: London Free Press Contact: Pubdate: May 17, 1997 Throwing pot smokers in jail is no solution Education and treatment for those who abuse any drug, including alcohol and tobacco, is the best way to cope with abuse. By Robin Clay London Free Press, May 17, 1997 p.E4 The writer is a London resident. Many people have questioned me about the constitutional challenge launched by my son, Chris Clay, and how I feel about what he is trying to accomplish. I would have preferred that Chris champion another cause, because of the penalties he could face if his challenge is unsuccessful. I love my son, but find it hard to understand why he would risk his future over this issue. However, he passionately believes Canada's drug laws are wrong and, over time, I have come to believe he is right. Conservative commentator William F. Buckley stated it well when he wrote, "most people are not too interested in how our marijuana laws are enforced until their own sons or daughters are involved." Parents should ask themselves if they would prefer their sons or daughters be branded as criminals and even jailed if caught with marijuana. We don't throw people in prison and brand them as criminals for merely consuming alcohol, which most experts say is more harmful than marijuana. Chris has made his decision to challenge our current laws that impose criminal records on thousands of our young people for possessing marijuana. Perhaps 85 per cent of university students experiment with marijuana, running the risk of being branded a criminal. By early 1990, some 600,000 Canadians have received criminal records for cannabisrelated offences. I am appalled at the tremendous amount of money and police resources wasted in prosecuting victimless crimes such as marijuana possession. Meanwhile, serious crime is often not investigated because our police say they lack funding. In some U.S. jurisdictions, prisons are crowded with potsmoking "criminals" while violent offenders get released early because the jails are full. Some U.S. states even reserve the right to hand out a life sentence for possessing marijuana. The war on drugs is not working. In spite of severe penalties in the U.S., consumption of illicit drugs is among the highest in the world. Canada should not look to that country for our drug strategy. Our legislators seem to lack the courage to discuss this issue seriously. Many politicians to whom I have spoken to seem to agree that our marijuana laws are wrong, but they remain silent. It would be interesting to ask federal election candidates for their views on marijuana. Don't be surprised if they squirm, smirk or make a bad joke, perhaps change the subject quickly. Meanwhile, back at campaign headquarters, the booze will flow freely on election night as candidates celebrate or drown their sorrows. It's time the government revisited the findings of the LeDain commission, which recommended removing possession from the Criminal Code in 1972. OPEN DISCUSSION: Philip McLeod, editor of the London Free Press, was right when he wrote recently that a free press should be a vehicle for open discussion on controversial issues. He stated there were conflicting opinions within the staff of The London Free Press about marijuana prohibition but the press should encourage open debate. It is important that opinions are formed with a knowledge of the issues and this can only be achieved by frank discussion, and frank talk about marijuana is certainly not coming from the political candidates. I was surprised when Free Press columnists David Dauphinee and Morris Dalla Costa wrote articles criticizing marijuana prohibition. McLeod disagrees with their views but allows them to be written. Contrast this with the fact that last summer, a television reporter asked me how Chris's challenge was progressing. I suggested he visit Chris's store and get the answer directly from Chris. He said he could not be seen going into Chris's store because his employer might not view this favorably. What a contrast. This affair has brought out differing responses from people. Most have been understanding and having shown empathy for the ordeal we are experiencing. However, some may have made assumptions about my lifestyle. I want to make it clear that in no way am I promoting the use of marijuana. In fact, just the opposite. The black market we support with our current laws must be eliminated. Those peddling drugs in back alleys are happy with the status quo that allows their monopoly to thrive. I am now convinced this is the real gateway to the more harmful drugs. Surely the correct treatment for those who abuse any substance, whether it is alcohol, nicotine or marijuana, is education and compassionate rehabilitation. Branding people as criminals or throwing them in prison simply does not work.