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A marijuana plant flourishes under grow lights at a warehouse in Denver, Colorado, October, 2010. (Ed Andrieski/AP)
A marijuana plant flourishes under grow lights at a warehouse in Denver, Colorado, October, 2010. (Ed Andrieski/AP)

Globe Editorial

Marijuana should not be criminalized Add to ...

It is hard to understand why Canada criminalizes marijuana. Make it illegal, sure - subject to a fine, as is wearing a face veil in France - but where is the high degree of harm, to others or self, that requires criminal sanction, including jail?

The criminal law is not meant to be used where a finger wag might do.

On one level, an Ontario court ruling this week striking down Canada's marijuana laws was about medicinal users. The law was deemed unconstitutional because it obliges sick people to obtain a doctor's approval for use, a procedure that doctors have largely boycotted, on the advice of their provincial associations and their insurer. Rather than work with physicians to meet their concerns, Health Canada had absolved itself of responsibility.

But the question that is impossible to avoid in the thorough, well-reasoned ruling by Mr. Justice D.J. Taliano, of the Superior Court, is: Why criminalize?

The Ontario Court of Appeal has previously accepted that marijuana consumption is "relatively harmless," compared with hard drugs, tobacco or alcohol; that there is no hard evidence of irreversible organic or mental damage; that no evidence shows cannabis induces psychoses; that cannabis is not addictive; that marijuana use doesn't cause criminality, doesn't make people more aggressive or violent, and probably doesn't lead to hard drug use; that there have been no recorded deaths from marijuana consumption; that it does not cause a "motivational syndrome"; and that, where the drug is decriminalized, consumption doesn't increase wildly.

The constitutional issue is easy to understand. The state's marijuana ban aims to protect people from harm, yet the ban imposes harm on sick people. Judge Taliano heard from would-be medical users from across Canada that it was nearly impossible to find a doctor who would sign off on marijuana use. These would-be users included people with multiple sclerosis and HIV-AIDS. It is not as if the alternative, prescription opioids, is perfectly wonderful. Those drugs are involved in more overdose deaths in North America than cocaine or heroine.

The federal government has been given three months to fix the marijuana law for medicinal users or that law will fall by the wayside. Separately, the Conservatives want a mandatory minimum of six months in jail for people who grow six marijuana plants. How about a debate on the decriminalization of marijuana?

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