Government needs to back off marijuana convictions

By sometime next year, it will most likely be legal to possess and use marijuana in much (if not all) of Canada. But between now and then the government has served notice that it will continue to enforce the existing laws on the books.

Now the argument can be made, and with a fair bit of legitimacy, that the law is the law and we can’t have people going around willy-nilly ignoring the law of the land on a whim and a cloud. But at the end of the day, that argument is really just blowing smoke, because that is exactly what happens on the occasion of the courts ruling a law is out of whack with its intent, or that it does not jibe with other laws or rights and freedoms that have been established by those strolling along the halls of power in Ottawa.

It is a fairly well established principle that the punishment should fit the crime, or at least be levied in just proportion. In the case of an individual being charged with a criminal offence which society, in the person of the government of the day, has determined should no longer be deemed criminal, that punishment steps beyond the pale of fundamental justice.

To saddle a young person with a criminal conviction that will follow them for the balance of their lives when the decision that what they have done is not deserving of a crime has already been, for most intents and purposes, decided is simply wrong and totally unnecessary.

Certainly citizens are expected to respect the law, particularly criminal law, which is put in place with the laudable goal of protecting members of society from the baser instincts of their fellow man. But when it has been determined that no such protection is believed to be necessary, the underlying premise of that required respect evaporates.

What is even more heinous is that the publicity surrounding the determination that the use, and or abuse, of marijuana is no longer to be considered a criminal act, will lead many in society to believe that the law has been set aside, all but enticing them to flout that law to their own lasting detriment.

Governments issue directives to put a law in abeyance with some regularity when it is determined that such a law is either unenforceable or simply wrong-headed. This is such a case where the punishment will be counter to the principles of justice.

The federal government has indicated that they intend the transition to legalization to be a smooth and cautious path, well in keeping with the tenants of peace, order and good government. But there are plenty of examples of jurisdictions were legalization has taken place in states south of the border and outright anarchy has not ensued. There is no reason to expect that such would not be the case here in Canada—even barring a legislative regulation upon which to frame it.

Add to the mix that the continued enforcement of marijuana laws will demonstrably fall disproportionately on visible minorities and youth and the injustice of such a policy will be magnified by yet another factor.

The simplest of solutions would be a directive to enforcement agencies and the courts to cease the charging and prosecuting those in possession of what will be the legal limit of possession under the proposed legalization legislation. It can be done, it should be done and it is “just” that it be done.

This is not a position in support or against the legalization of marijuana, but rather a declaration of that which is just and proper considering the majority government’s stated objective. It will still be illegal to supply marijuana to minors, and the current law provides the means and deterrents necessary to deal with that.

It is illegal to drive while impaired, be that on legal medicine, alcohol or any other substance or medical condition that makes operation of a motorized vehicle a danger to society.

But it is long past time we stop making criminals of people for something society has not considered criminal for some time now—especially when the government has decided to change the law to reflect that reality. That is simply, just.