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Half of Canadians Want Relaxed Pot Law




Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Author: Janice Tibbetts, Vancouver Sun 
Published: Thursday, January 02, 2003
Copyright: 2003 The Vancouver Sun
Contact: [email protected]
Website: http://www.canada.com/vancouver/vancouversun/

Support for decriminalization no longer confined to the young.

Ottawa -- Half of Canadians want the federal government to decriminalize possession of marijuana, and support for relaxed laws is not confined to the young.

The new survey comes at a time when Justice Minister Martin Cauchon says he is going to remove simple pot possession from the Criminal Code, but his boss, Prime Minister Jean Chretien, isn't sure.

"This is something that is against the law right now and you've got half the population saying let's decriminalize that," said Toronto pollster Michael Sullivan. "It certainly says that we are a relatively liberal society on this issue."

The U.S. has also warned against decriminalization, saying Canada should get over its "reefer madness" if it doesn't want to face the wrath of its largest trading partner.

The survey of 1,400 adult Canadians revealed 50 per cent either strongly or somewhat support decriminalization, while 47 per cent are somewhat or strongly opposed.

The poll was conducted in the first half of November for Maclean's magazine, Global TV and The Vancouver Sun by the Strategic Counsel, a Toronto-based polling firm. The results are considered accurate to within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The survey showed 53 per cent of Canadians under 40 support looser laws, while 48 per cent of people aged 40 and older want to see marijuana decriminalized.

Sullivan said there was less of an age gap than there is on other social issues, such as gay marriage and gay adoption.

"I guess we should think that marijuana smoking in general started in the 1960s, so a lot of people now who are 40 plus are people who may have tried marijuana in the '60s," he said.

The survey also revealed men are more likely than women to favour relaxed laws and support is strongest among people with money.

Fifty-three per cent of men said the government should act, compared to 48 per cent of women.

The findings are different than they are for most social issues, in which women tend to be more liberal than men, Sullivan said.

"Is it that men are smoking more, that this is more of a risky activity?" Sullivan asked. "We know that men tend to be a little less risk adverse than women, so is that part of it?"

Support for looser laws also increased with income. Of those earning more than $100,000, 59 per cent want marijuana decriminalized. The next strongest block of support came from people in the $80,000 to $100,000 wage bracket.

The pollsters speculated support is driven by education and affordability, so people who were exposed to pot in university are the most likely to want new laws.

But the polling firm warned the government should proceed with caution because the results show almost half of adult Canadians oppose any law changes.

"This isn't 70 or 80 per cent saying let's do it, but it certainly suggests that this is something that should be vigorously debated and as you get more information, let's see where people stand on it," said Sullivan.

The poll results show British Columbia leads the pack of supporters, with 56 per cent in favour. Support in Ontario registered at 51 per cent, while 48 per cent of Albertans and Quebecers reported favouring looser laws. Support was lowest in Saskatchewan and Atlantic Canada, with 46 per cent in favour.

"When you're looking for lifestyle liberalism, Quebec is usually the trendsetter, but not so in this case," said Sullivan.

David Plaxton, another Strategic Council pollster, suspects British Columbians are most likely to favour revamped marijuana laws because of the "hippie culture" on the West Coast.

The regional margins of error, at a 95-per-cent confidence level, were within 5.8 percentage points in both B.C. and Alberta, 7.5 percentage points in Saskatchewan/Manitoba, 5.1 percentage points in Ontario, 5.8 percentage points in Quebec and 6.7 percentage points in Atlantic Canada.

The Strategic Council did not ask Canadians whether they support legalization of marijuana. Rather the survey dealt with decriminalization, which would still make possession illegal, but people caught would be given a fine akin to a parking ticket rather than saddled with a criminal record.

But Sullivan suspects many of those surveyed did not distinguish between decriminalization and legalization.

"They may not have got the nuance," he said.

Cauchon has rejected the prospect of legalization, which was recommended by a Senate committee last summer, saying society still wants some sort of punishment for pot smokers.

Canada Speaks 2003

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