Clearing the air on pot

The Yukon lies between two jurisdictions with very relaxed attitudes towards marijuana. To the west is Alaska, which became the third U.S.

The Yukon lies between two jurisdictions with very relaxed attitudes towards marijuana.

To the west is Alaska, which became the third U.S. state to legalize the drug earlier this year.

Adults over the age of 21 are allowed to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants.

And to the south is British Columbia, where the cannabis industry is worth an estimated $6 billion a year.

Vancouver’s annual 4/20 rally draws thousands of people downtown, where they can smoke marijuana without consequence.

So where do our federal candidates stand when it comes to marijuana laws?

Conservative candidate Ryan Leef declined to discuss the issue.

His campaign manager, Darren Parsons, told the News that “the issue mentioned just doesn’t come up.”

“We haven’t heard it at all,” he said, “and it’s just not an issue that’s top of the line with Yukoners.”

In Oct. 2013, Leef told Parliment Yukon families “see through the Liberal leader’s rhetoric and we know that teens are twice as likely to consume alcohol in the past year as pot. Regulating rules for alcohol did not prevent teens from accessing it.”

Leef was referring to Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s stance on the drug, which is to legalize and regulate it.

In a campaign stop in Markham, Ont. last month, Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper claimed that a majority of Canadians agree with his opposition to legalizing marijuana.

He said the government had “more and more data about the consequences of long-term marijuana use,” and that marijuana use has been declining.

In fact, it turns out that more than two-thirds of Canadians want marijuana laws softened, according to a national survey commissioned by the Department of Justice last year.

Thirty-seven per cent of people surveyed said marijuana should be legalized, while 33 per cent said they wanted possession of small amounts of marijuana to be decriminalized.

And in 2013, the World Health Organization ranked Canadian teens as the highest cannabis users in the world.

As it stands, it remains illegal in Canada to possess marijuana unless you have a medical license for medical purposes.

In June, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that medical marijuana patients can legally use all forms of the drug.

Anyone convicted of possessing under 30 grams of pot can face fines up to $1,000 or as much as six months in jail.

Larger amounts can carry prison sentences of up to five years.

Yukon Liberal candidate Larry Bagnell said he’s in favour of legalizing and regulating marijuana.

The benefits would include freeing up police resources, he said, and keeping money out of the pockets of organized crime.

According to Statistics Canada, about 59,000 Canadians were arrested in 2013 for possessing marijuana.

“I’m sure those people whose vehicles were broken into at the airport last week would probably prefer the cops being freed up,” he said.

“Regulation could be modelled after the alcohol industry. You’d buy it in a store and there would be an age requirement.”

Back in 2000, when Bagnell was first elected to Parliament, he said the idea of legalization was controversial. But now it’s what most Canadians want, he said.

“We’ve come a long way since then,” he said.

“Colorado has legalized marijuana and (businesses) generated about $63 million in taxes last year.”

Bagnell said being arrested and convicted of marijuana possession makes it hard for people to find jobs or travel abroad.

Yukon NDP candidate Melissa Atkinson, a longtime criminal lawyer in the territory, echoed Bagnell’s thoughts.

She said Canadians need to look at the cost of putting people in prison and the resources allocated to that.

“From the trenches up you have policing, administration of justice, prosecutors, defense councils, court systems, etc,” she said.

“It’s about changing the discourse and informing people about what decriminalization could mean. And bringing discretion back to judges and looking at core issues while sentencing.”

The NDP’s position has long been to decriminalize marijuana in Canada, which means the sale isn’t fully legalized but consumers aren’t criminally prosecuted.

“I think adults are capable of making their own choices on these things,” Mulcair said last year.

Although the Marijuana Party of Canada only had five registered candidates in the 2011 federal election, it had 71 in the 2004 election.

One of those candidates was Sean Davey, who ran for the party in the Yukon. He finished fifth with 299 votes.

The upcoming federal election will be held on Oct. 19.

Contact Myles Dolphin at myles@yukon-news.com

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