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Part 2 B The Global Objectives

Goal definition is a normative exercise which ultimately falls to those who bear political responsibility for social policy. Subject to the possibility of future political refinement, the Department's primary goal is to minimize the harms resulting from cannabis use and a prohibitory response to such use. This is a two-pronged objective that addresses both those public health concerns arising from current usage patterns and those administration of justice concerns that pertain to enforcement practices and the fate of offenders. Two global objectives thus emerge. The first is to minimize the individual risks (chiefly, health hazards to oneself) and social risks (namely, safety risks to others) associated with cannabis use. The second is to minimize the adverse socio-legal consequences which result from the application of the criminal law to cannabis-related conduct. This latter objective reflects several fundamental concerns related to the operation of any criminal justice system, including fairness, proportionality, institutional integrity and administrative efficiency. These matters are examined in some detail in Part Four B Legal Issues and Options.

The two primary objectives may, to a large extent, prove contradictory. An attempt to minimize health and safety risks through rigorous law enforcement will exacerbate the current individual and societal costs of enforcement. Conversely, the minimization of enforcement costs (personal, societal and economic) may result in an increase in conduct associated with health and safety concerns. Thus, the maximal attainment of both policy objectives requires a compromise or balancing of interests. The exact point at which an acceptable trade-off is effected will depend on the gravity of the harms and an evaluative assessment of their relative importance. The Le Dain Commission, in its Final Report, adopted a similar calculus. In discussing the test to be used in deciding what, if any, measures should be taken in response to drug use, the Commission noted that:

We must weigh the potential for harm, individual and social, of the conduct in question against the harm, individual and social, which is caused by the application of the criminal law, and ask ourselves whether, on balance, the intervention is justified. (Le Dain, 1973:940)

In short, the legislative response must be designed to avoid a situation where the harms that flow from our cannabis control policy are greater than those attributable to the conduct the policy is intended to curtail.


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Updated: 25 Jul 2001 | Accessed: 4680 times