DURING THE 12 months ended January 18, 1971, more than 5,000 Canadians were convicted on charges of possessing marijuana and/ or hashish. Fewer than 150 went to jail, and most of those had criminal records or faced other charges. Most of those found guilty got off with a fine not exceeding $200, although they could have received seven years in jail.
In short, the penalties are light, and likely to get lighter, for possession of the so-called “soft” drugs. The LeDain Commission, in its preliminary report, suggested that only suspended sentences or fines should be imposed, and the federal justice department has, since August, 1969, followed a practice of prosecuting these offenses by way of summary trial rather than indictment (conviction on indictment would bring a suspended or mandatory jail sentence; summary trial permits a fine to be levied).
And yet Canadians are, on the whole, opposed to relaxing the penalties; if anything, they want stiffer punishment meted out. This is revealed in a recent study carried out
for Maclean’s by Contemporary Research Centre Limited, one of Canada’s foremost research companies. CRCL interviewed 2,000 Canadians from every walk of life, in every corner of the land, and turned up an unmistakable inclination to hold fast or harden the law. The table below was drawn from statistics based on a scale of five, and the mean response of all those interviewed was 2.731. That indicates a general response somewhere between leaving penalties where they are and slightly increasing them.
Does this mean the government should or will reverse the easing trend? Not necessarily. Study of the table shows that those in the higher income groups, those with better education, and younger people who will soon be moving to the levers of power tend to want the penalties reduced. Future action will depend largely on whether these people change their minds. What is clear today, however, is that the average Canadian is against any further relaxation.
Clearly, too, we hold strong views on drug penalties. Even those who want
no change express their standpat philosophy clearly. Some typical quotes: From those who want tougher penalties:
“The whole country’s going to pot pretty soon.”
“If they do nothing about it, it’s bound to get worse. God knows it’s bad enough now.”
“The world is too wild as it is.” From those who want laxer penalties: “There is no more damn harm in smoking marijuana today than in smoking cigarettes.”
“Prohibition of the use of marijuana may increase the public demand rather than control it.”
“Some of my best friends have marijuana in their possession, and I wouldn’t want to see them go to jail.” From those who want no change: “(The penalties) should be left as they are until they know for sure how much danger there is.”
“I think they catch enough people as it is.”
“We are getting educated more to the situation, and stiffer penalties might not be enforceable.” □
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