Most Cdns support decriminalizing pot: poll News Staff
Updated: Sat. May. 17 2003 8:44 AM ET

A majority of Canadians think decriminalization will make it harder for Canadian law enforcement agencies to crack down on drug dealers, but they support the change anyway, according to a new poll.

Figures released from an Ipsos-Reid/CTV/Globe and Mail poll Friday showed 55 per cent of Canadians don't think smoking marijuana should be considered a criminal offence -- and support for decriminalization gets even higher when fines are suggested as a penalty for marijuana offenders.

In fact, 63 per cent of Canadians supported the rumoured changes to Canada's pot laws, which reportedly include fines for possession of under 15 grams of marijuana as opposed to criminal charges. Thirty-five per cent of those polled opposed such changes.

Though Justice Minister Martin Cauchon has yet to publicize the details of his proposed legislation, reports put the fines at $150 for possession of small amounts of marijuana with reduced fines for minors.

But despite the apparent support for Cauchon's decriminalization plan, the Ipsos-Reid/CTV/Globe and Mail poll found that 53 per cent of Canadians feel the proposed changes would make fighting the illegal drug trade harder for police and 51 per cent believe decriminalization will translate into more teenagers smoking pot. Fifty-one per cent of Canadians also say the plan will result in an increased demand for pot -- which will contribute to increased criminal activity -- while 48 per cent disagree with the view.

Support for decriminalization is up slightly from 1997, when only 51 per cent of Canadians thought smoking marijuana should not be a criminal offence. In 1987, only 39 per cent supported decriminalization.

Across Canada, Quebecers are the most likely to be supportive of the decriminalization plan, with 63 per cent of residents in favour of removing criminal penalties. In Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario, residents were evenly split on the issue.

Meanwhile, 64 per cent of men compared to 49 per cent of women are in favour of fines over criminal charges. University graduates and younger Canadians are also more likely to support decriminalization.

But Canadians acknowledge that decriminalizing marijuana would not be without consequence -- half of Canadians believe more teens under the legal age will now take up smoking marijuana with the strongest agreement (58 per cent) in Atlantic Canada and 55 per cent in Ontario. Half of those polled also say the changes will create a heightened demand for marijuana and in turn grow the drug trade. That view is led by people in Ontario (58 per cent) followed by Alberta (52 per cent) and Saskatchewan and Manitoba (51 per cent).

The poll, which is based on a randomly selected sample of 1,001 adults, is considered accurate for the entire adult Canadian population to within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

© Copyright 2003 Bell Globemedia Inc.