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After New Study, It Should Be Made Easier To Toke

 

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Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Author: Stuart Hunter and Ethan Baron, The Province
Published: Thursday, July 22, 2004
Copyright: 2004 CanWest Interactive Inc. 
Contact: [email protected]
Website: http://www.canada.com/vancouver/theprovince/

As someone who has been jailed in every province, B.C. marijuana activist Marc Emery considers himself a man with his finger on Canada's pot pulse.

He said yesterday's Statistics Canada report, 2002 Canadian Community Health Survey, indicating more Canadians than ever are toking up, shows the growing need for new legislation to make it easier for people to access marijuana and squeeze organized crime out of the drug scene.

The report says that the number of Canadians who admit to indulging in marijuana or hashish nearly doubled to 12.2 per cent between 1989 and 2002 -- and the highest rates of use were among teens. That was a substantial jump from 6.5 per cent in 1989 and 7.4 per cent in 1994.

"I think it's pretty accurate," said Emery, president of the B.C. Marijuana Party. "I'd say there are about three million smokers at any one time who would be considered regular smokers, or about 12 per cent.

"It's ingrained in our national psyche to smoke pot at some point in your life and as these children grow up the numbers will continue to increase, so it's going to continue to get larger and larger."

Provincially, B.C. had the highest rate of cannabis use at 15.7 per cent, Nova Scotia was second at 13.7 and Quebec was third at 13.5 per cent, according to the survey.

Many of the big gains were among youth. Thirty-eight per cent of teens aged 18 and 19 reported smoking pot or hash in the previous 12 months, while 29 per cent of teens 15 through 17 indulged.

That dropped to six per cent in adults 45 to 54 years old and virtually disappears after age 65. Men in nearly every age group were more likely to toke up than women.

In Ottawa, Prime Minister Paul Martin and his newly minted cabinet pledged to reintroduce legislation aimed at decriminalizing possession and use of small amounts of pot when Parliament resumes in October. But with a minority government, passage depends on support from the NDP and Bloc Quebecois.

Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh, B.C.'s former NDP premier, said he's concerned about the reported rise in drug use but is also uncertain whether arguments that decriminalization would further increase marijuana use "have any validity."

"My view is that, if you make something illegal, some people are more attracted to it," he said.

"It's just the high in getting something in a stealthy fashion. If you allow people to possess it in small quantities for personal use, the allure kind of disappears for some people."

Dr. John Blatherwick, Vancouver's chief medical officer, attributed the high B.C. figures to easy access to drugs, adding it's a societal problem that won't be solved in the courts.

"The big factor here seems to be supply," he said. "I think it's a societal thing and I don't think draconian laws will make any difference. It's talking to your kids and teaching them how to make good decisions."

Solicitor-General Rich Coleman blamed B.C. numbers on the judiciary being soft on drug dealers, which has led to organized crime taking over the drug trade.

Yesterday's study showed that of the three million pot smokers, half smoke it less than once a month, one in 10 was a weekly user and 10 per cent were daily tokers.

B.C. had the highest rate of cannabis-related offences.

The study also showed Canadians were less likely to use crack cocaine, ecstasy, LSD, amphetamines and heroin. Just 2.4 per cent of Canadians aged 15 and older reported using the harder drugs, with crack the drug of choice for 321,000 citizens or 1.3 per cent.

Perhaps highlighting the extent of B.C.'s marijuana trade, Richmond police yesterday revealed how one pot grower gave new meaning to getting high.

The RCMP raided a grow-op on the 12th floor of an apartment building early yesterday -- a grow-op location they had been expecting to see for some time.

"The access by police is greatly restricted," said Cpl. Dave Williams. "We don't have access to just drive by and see what's going on. We don't have easy access to talk to neighbours."

The bust in the 7000-block Gilbert Road, which netted 200 plants but no suspects, raises serious issues about fire, Williams said.

"All grow-ops pose a concern, but normally it only affects one house, one unit, one family. But when it gets into an apartment building it just multiplies the number of people who are now put at risk. The potential for disaster is multiplied greatly."

Stuart Hunter: [email protected]

Ethan Baron: [email protected]

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