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Canadian Senate panel urges legalization of pot

OTTAWA, Canada (CNN) -- A Canadian Senate committee recommended Wednesday that marijuana be legalized.

"Cannabis should be, from here on, in legal and of restricted use, so that Canadians can choose whether to consume or not in security," said Sen. Pierre Claude Nolin, a Progressive Conservative Party member from Quebec province. He spoke at a news conference announcing the final report of the Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, which he chaired.

The government should give amnesty to anyone convicted of marijuana possession under current or past legislation and erase their records, Nolin said.

"Domestic and international experts and Canadians from every walk of life told us loud and clear that we should not be imposing criminal records on users or unduly prohibiting personal use of cannabis," Nolin said.

The committee's report will be considered by lawmakers.

Evidence indicates that cannabis is less harmful than alcohol, and undermines the idea that smoking pot leads to harder drugs, the committee said.

The report recommends the legal age for possession and consumption as 16, said Dave Newman, committee spokesman. It would be regulated similar to the way alcohol is.

Nolin said: "Make no mistake, we are not endorsing cannabis use for recreational consumption. Whether or not an individual uses marijuana should be a personal choice that is not subject to criminal penalties.

"But we have come to the conclusion that, as a drug, it should be regulated by the state much as we do for wine and beer, hence our preference for legalization over decriminalization."

The report says the appropriate level of tetrahydrocannabinol -- THC -- in marijuana for recreational use would be 13 percent. THC is the main active component of cannabis.

Many of the products illegally on the market now have a much higher THC level, he said.

The committee also recommended a revision of the regulations regarding medicinal use of marijuana.

Legalization would ultimately result in less recreational use of marijuana, the panel believes. It also would take a load off the criminal justice system and hurt organized crime, the report says.

The panel also recommended that laws on driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs should be amended "to lower permitted alcohol levels to 40 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood, in the presence of other drugs, especially, but not exclusively cannabis; and to admit evidence from expert police officers trained in detecting persons operating vehicles under the influence of drugs."

Sen. Colin Kenny, a Liberal Party member from Ontario who is the panel's deputy chair, said no one on the committee wants to see an increase in drug use.

Newman said the nation's minister of justice, Martin Cauchon, will take a look at the report and determine whether the government wants to put it on its legislative agenda.

Other recommendations made in the 600-plus page report, which is the result of two years of study, include:

  • Canada "should adopt an integrated policy on the risks and harmful effects of psychoactive substances" covering a whole range of substances.
  • A Canadian Center on Psychoactive Substances and Dependency should be created, with "a strong, clear mandate."
  • The nation should seek amendments to U.N. conventions and treaties governing illegal drugs and back the development of a Drugs and Dependency Monitoring Agency for the Americas.


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