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Part 1 B General Introduction

Cannabis control policy has been a source of contentious debate for more than a decade. In order to resolve some of the outstanding issues, the Health Protection Branch of Health and Welfare Canada has recently undertaken a systematic review of the medical, social-scientific and legal aspects of cannabis use. Based on these data and a comparative examination of control programs in some other jurisdictions, a broad spectrum of control options has been articulated. These legislative alternatives, which range from the current provisions of the Narcotic Control Act, through various Adecriminalization@ proposals, to a regulatory model involving authorized retail distribution of cannabis, are critically surveyed in this paper. The results of these endeavours should provide government policy advisors and decision-makers with sufficient information to evaluate the various options and facilitate their selection of a preferred legislative policy.

Part Two B The Global Objectives, briefly outlines those goals which the Department seeks to further in the area of cannabis control. Part Three B The Empirical Bases of Cannabis Control Policy is founded on the Department-commissioned studies and reviews that are currently being completed or edited. Eventually these background materials will be collated as a source book on cannabis. It is intended that this source book will have five major divisions: (1) cannabis use and its effects; (2) sources and distribution of cannabis; (3) extent and patterns of use; (4) law and law enforcement; and (5) the impact of the present law. Part Three reports the major findings and policy implications of these background studies in two chapters: Chapter 1 concerns empirical evidence regarding cannabis use (health and safety-related effects, epidemiological data, and the nature of the market); Chapter 2 details information pertaining to the present legislative response to cannabis (including police powers and problems, the processing of suspects and information, enforcement statistics, and the financial and socio-legal costs of current controls).

Part Four B Legal Issues and Options, describes the legislative and jurisprudential considerations pertinent to any informed discussion of cannabis control policy. Our primary focus is on the available options. Prior to this, however, a number of factors which limit the choices and determine the shape of any legal response to cannabis use are outlined. These include certain normative and legislative design concerns (such as clarity, consistency, fairness and proportionality), the international and constitutional constraints on the exercise of federal legislative discretion, and the problem of defining offences to reflect meaningful behavioural categories. Eight legislative options are subsequently described and critically assessed in light of the broad policy objectives and the aforementioned legal considerations.

The adoption of any reform proposal is unlikely to turn on strictly legal considerations. Legal research may indicate the legitimate scope of our response and suggest varying legislative re-formulations, but the law must ultimately serve rather than dictate the ends of social policy. With regard to cannabis, social policy is primarily the product of a complex mix of broad social objectives, related empirical evidence, and unavoidably political, or electoral, considerations. This last concern is best left to those who are publicly accountable for their decisions. The second set of issues will be discussed at length below. First, however, it is important to articulate the broad social policy objectives that motivate the search for an appropriate legislative response to cannabis use.


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Updated: 25 Jul 2001 | Accessed: 5078 times