NDP bill calls for decriminalization of marijuana

The New Democrats will introduce a bill in the House of Commons today demanding the government decriminalize possession of personal amounts of pot before it’s made legal.

The NDP plans to put the issue of marijuana decriminalization to a vote in Parliament as part of an Opposition Day motion.

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The Liberals say they plan to introduce legislation in April 2017 to remove marijuana consumption and incidental possession from the Criminal Code, and create laws to better punish those who provide marijuana to minors, drive while under its influence or sell it contrary to the new laws.

The government intends to set up a task force comprising experts in public health, substance abuse and policing to create a new system of strict marijuana sales and distribution.

Recreational use of marijuana for those 21 and older is already permitted in some areas of the United States, including Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia.

The federal Liberal government does not have plans to decriminalize marijuana possession in the meantime.

NDP Justice Critic Murray Rankin will be speaking to the motion today to keep up the pressure on the government.

It’s an outright contradiction on the part of Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to promise to immediately fix marijuana laws in Canada during the election campaign, and then do nothing for eight months except continue the senseless practice of handing out criminal records for personal use, said Rankin, who represents Victoria, in a phone interview.

Rankin has raised the question in the House of Commons many times. He argues that while in Victoria there may be a more lax attitude toward having personal amounts of marijuana, it’s not that way in other parts of the country.

“It’s a contradiction when you have people in some parts of the country — Victoria where we don’t get charged very often for this — while in other parts they do and that’s because administration of justice is provincial.”

Rankin asked what he would say to the mother of a young adult charged and convicted of possession of a small amount of marijuana. The youth would no longer be able to travel to the United States and would have a criminal record — making it harder to gain employment — for possession that will soon be legal, Rankin said.

“We are saying as an interim measure — until they get around to amending the law to allow possession and all the restrictions and regulations that appropriately go with that — we think as an interim measure they should tell the police departments and crown attorneys around the country to just back off,” said Rankin.

Rankin said that if the law on marijuana possession isn’t introduced until April 2017, it will take time to get through both the House of Commons and Senate.

“What are we going to do in the next year or two while people are being charged and how do we address the fact that the government acknowledges it is spending between $3 and $4 million a year prosecuting simple possession,” Rankin said.

The government has the power, for instance, under the director of the public prosecutions act that would allow the attorney general to issue a directive to tell authorities not to prosecute possession of small quantities of marijuana. Rankin also supports the idea of an amnesty of such prosecutions after the law comes in.

Rankin said he’s in favour of restricting and regulating marijuana and supports all things that would be included in a sensible reform package “but what I can’t get my head around is the contradiction of people getting criminal records for something that in a year or two will be perfectly legal and people’s lives being dramatically affected as a result of that.”

This year, as many as 60,000 Canadians will be arrested for simple possession of marijuana and 22,000 will end up with criminal records, according to the NDP.

The majority of the convictions for pot possession involve young Canadians, who should not be burdened with criminal records for the rest of their lives especially when the government plans to legalize marijuana at some point in the future, said NDP Youth Critic Anne Minh-Thu Quach.

The opposition motion to be debated today reads: “That the House: (a) recognize the contradiction of continuing to give Canadian criminal records for simple possession of marijuana after the government has stated that it should not be a crime; (b) recognize that this situation is unacceptable to Canadians, municipalities and law enforcement agencies; (c) recognize that a growing number of voices, including that of a former Liberal prime minister, are calling for decriminalization to address this gap; and (d) call upon the government to immediately decriminalize the simple possession of marijuana for personal use.”

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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