At the eleventh hour, Peter MacKay, the Minister of Justice, is broaching the prospect of a marijuana bill that would verge on decriminalization. Well, better late than never. If such a bill were to become law, Canadian police would be able to ticket anyone smoking pot in public. But possession wouldn't necessarily be a crime.
Just as it is undesirable to have "open liquor," as Mr. MacKay has put it, the consumption of marijuana on public sidewalks ought to remain illegal. Scotch is legal, but we don't want people wandering the streets, drinking from a paper bag. Why not do likewise with marijuana?
It is a waste of the police's time to criminally charge people for possession of small amounts of marijuana, and the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs have said as much. But making a habit of pretending not to see pot-smoking in public is a bad thing, too.
Mr. MacKay insists that his proposed ticketing scheme would not amount to either decriminalization or legalization. But surely it would mean de facto decriminalization – a good thing. The whole point is to ensure that, in future, there will be few prosecutions for simple possession.
The main obstacle for sensible ticketing legislation is the existing queue of eight justice bills already in Parliament or soon to be introduced. Mr. MacKay said it would have to be tabled within the next six months. It could, however, be a quite a short bill, less complex than others. And at least one of the government's justice bills, on prostitution, should be withdrawn and rethought entirely.
Passage of such a bill wouldn't be difficult. Thomas Mulcair and the NDP are already in favour of decriminalization. Justin Trudeau and the Liberals want to go further, with outright legalization of marijuana, but they could hardly oppose a step in that direction. With something approaching unanimity, the time is ripe.