U.S. expert: Marijuana law concerns 'overblown'

TV.ca News Staff

Updated: Mon. May. 19 2003 2:13 PM ET

Justice Minister Martin Cauchon has yet to unveil proposed legislation for decriminalizing marijuana, but already U.S. officials have denounced the proposal. But one U.S. advocate says fears south of the border are unfounded.

"The best research tends to show that the decriminalization of marijuana has little to no impact on levels of use," Ethan Nadleman, executive director of the U.S.-based Drug Policy Alliance, told CTV's Question Period on Sunday.

Nadleman says the U.S. is opposed to more lenient marijuana laws in Canada because they would highlight how out-of-touch the stricter American laws are in comparison to much of the Western world.

In the States, marijuana is lumped along with harder drugs like heroin and PCB as drugs with "a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use." In contrast, countries like Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Belgium have all recently endorsed legislation to decriminalize cannabis.

In the Netherlands, one of the countries most famously lax on marijuana users, possession of up to 30 grams of cannabis is a minor offence that is generally not prosecuted. Dealing in small amounts of cannabis is also an offence, but police refrain from prosecuting the notorious "coffee shops" where patrons can purchase small amounts of pot for personal use.

"I think you have to understand how truly out-of-step the United States is relative to other democracies," Nadleman said Sunday.

"The United States is increasingly isolated and I think the administration finds it embarrassing to have its neighbours move forward," he added.

This week, U.S. Drug Czar John Walters said he doesn't care how Canadian laws impact domestically. But he expressed concerns that decriminalization would result in higher drug use south of the border as well as the proliferation of B.C. bud, a highly potent drug which Walters called the "crack of marijuana."

Nadleman says those concerns are "vastly overblown."

"Right now the largest producer for the (marijuana) market is the United States itself," he said, adding that even if U.S. drug enforcement was able to eliminate drug exporters "someone will always be willing to step into their shoes."

Nadleman says rather than impacting marijuana use, changing drug laws would only effect the number of people going to jail on drug-related offences.

"We (the U.S.) lock up more people on drug charges than the entire European Union locks up for everything," Nadleman said.

"That's not a model I think most Canadians would want to follow, but that is part and parcel of U.S. drug policy."

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