By one small step the federal Conservatives are showing a willingness to advance beyond reefer madness mentality.
Justice Minister Peter MacKay indicated Wednesday that the government is considering relaxing the laws against marijuana, allowing police to ticket people caught with small amounts rather than laying charges.
The MP for Central Nova also noted this would not be a move to legalize or decriminalize pot.
The Conservatives would need to make that clear to distinguish their stance on a controversial topic, since Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau recently expressed support for outright legalization and regulating sale of marijuana. He argues that would be the better approach to keeping the drug away from minors, rather than a set of laws that hand sales over to the criminal element.
Certainly treating the possession of small amounts as a misdemeanor – in league, say, with jaywalking – would be a good practical move. Police chiefs in the country have made such a suggestion. And the thought that such minor arrests help clog the court system is ludicrous. That observation has been wafting around for decades.
There are some who will argue that such a measure as forwarded by MacKay does not go far enough. Views on this drug will range from those who believe it is harmful to the opposite end of the spectrum – an era in which two states in the U.S. have legalized it for recreational use. It is an issue that still divides.
As the laws now stand, even first-time offenders can face fines of up to $1,000 or as much as six months in jail for possessing small amounts. Do it again, it could be five years. Granted, we seldom see such sentences applied, but it’s on the books – for reasons Canadians can only surmise.
The Conservatives sense they are a step or two behind the prevailing public view on this topic. Although it’s far from an election issue, they need to show some mobility on it or risk being dismissed by some for outdated thinking.