Source:   London Free Press 
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

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.