Marijuana legalization or decriminalization backed by most Canadians: poll

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Alex Ballingall | The Star

A new poll shows a majority of Canadians support loosening the country’s marijuana laws, a stance that’s starkly out of sync with the federal government’s pot policy.

According to the poll, released Tuesday by Toronto’s Forum Research, 65 per cent of Canadians favour either the legalization and taxation of the drug, or decriminalizing it in small amounts.

“Very few want the law to be as it is,” said Forum president Lorne Bozinoff, pointing out that 17 per cent believe Canada’s current pot laws should remain, while 15 per cent want tougher rules.

On Monday, Forum Research polled 1,849 randomly selected people over the telephone in an interactive voice response survey.

“Public opinion has been ahead of government on this issue for a while,” said Bozinoff.

Under the Conservatives, Ottawa has veered toward harsher penalties for marijuana, increasing potential prison time and imposing mandatory jail sentences for growing six or more weed plants.

These strategies have drawn criticism from scientists and organizations such as the Brazil-based Global Commission on Drug Policy, which in March called them “destructive, expensive and ineffective.”

“I think (the Conservatives) have a morally based belief model, which is not based on evidence,” said Richard Mathias, a professor of public health at the University of British Columbia.

“It is paternalism in the extreme.”

Recent developments in the U.S., where marijuana was legalized in Colorado and Washington State in election-day plebiscites, have brought attention to the issue in Canada. Last week, Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau came out in favour of decriminalization, while leaving the door open to legalization, should he ever come to power.

Tom Stamatakis, president of the Canadian Police Association, said the public is too hasty to favour relaxing weed laws. He contends supporters of change are overlooking the risks of consuming and producing pot.

“We don’t have the tools and the training available to us now to ensure that people aren’t driving cars, for example, or operating machinery, while they’re impaired by marijuana,” he said.

“There are all kinds of implications that I don’t think people are considering carefully enough … It’s still a harmful substance, ultimately.”

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