More MS news articles for May 2001

Rock open to debate on pot legalization

Committee likely to study 'all options'

Thursday 24 May 2001
The Gazette; CP contributed to this report

Maybe it's something in the air.

A month ago, clouds of tear gas billowed through Quebec City.

But now that the Summit of the Americas is memory and rain has washed its vestiges away, visiting federal politicians are choosing the Old Capital to come out on the issue of marijuana.

On Tuesday, Progressive Conservative leader Joe Clark said here that he favours decriminalizing the drug, instead making marijuana possession a civil offence, like a traffic violation.

Yesterday, Health Minister Allan Rock said he would "participate with enthusiasm" in planned House of Commons hearings into the possible decriminalization or even legalization of "mari," as he described it, using the familiar French term for "pot."

"It (legalization) is one of the things that will be discussed by the committee, I am sure, and I will participate with enthusiasm," Rock told reporters.

The minister was at Universite Laval to announce $82.6 million in grants for medical research projects to 21 universities and teaching hospitals in the province, when reporters asked him for his position on the legalization of marijuana.

Rock noted that, as health minister, he made marijuana legal in Canada for medical purposes and, when committee hearings on non-medical use of marijuana were proposed, he agreed.

"I think that now is an appropriate time to study all that to determine if we as a country, if we have an approach and appropriate policy to favour people's health."

While he stopped short of advocating legalization, saying he does not want to prejudge the work of the committee, Rock recalled that it has been 30 years since the LeDain Commission on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs recommended decriminalization of marijuana and the possibility of its gradual legalization.

The Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau, which named the LeDain Commission, did not carry out those recommendations.

"I think things have changed since LeDain, but as I say, I don't want to prejudge a process that is just now getting started," Rock said.

"I think the committee will look at all options. As far as I am concerned at Health Canada, my focus has been on medical marijuana and making that available, because I think there are strong reasons on compassionate grounds to make medical marijuana available, which we have done."

Rock also noted that a Senate committee, headed by Tory Senator Pierre Claude Nolin, is already looking into the legalization of marijuana.

The minister has only smiled when asked whether he ever smoked marijuana, but in 1969 as president of the University of Ottawa students' union, he invited Beatle John Lennon and Yoko Ono to Ottawa after their week-long bed-in for peace at Montreal's Queen Elizabeth Hotel. Lennon openly embraced the use of pot.

Clark and Rock appear to be joining a groundswell of support for at least decriminalizing pot.

Justice Minister Anne McLellan said Friday she is open to such a debate.

On Tuesday, Alberta Premier Ralph Klein said he's willing to discuss softening Canada's laws against pot.

Like Clark, Klein made it clear his position is a personal one, not necessarily shared by his party colleagues.

But popular opinion appears to have shifted. A new national survey by University of Lethbridge sociologist Reg Bibby shows 47 per cent of Canadians now favour the drug's legalization, compared with 30 per cent in the mid-1970s and mid-1990s.

The $82.6 million in medical research grants Rock announced yesterday for Quebec institutions is part of a $234-million commitment by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to institutions across the country.

Laval's share is $15.8 million.

"We talk about the brain drain. We talk about keeping our best and brightest in Canada," the health minister said.

"The way we do that, it seems to me, is by investing in our universities, in our researchers, and that's what today is all about."