Canada’s Supreme Court upheld laws banning possession of marijuana, saying the drug’s health risks are “neither insignificant nor trivial,” the Toronto Globe and Mail reports. A 6-3 majority said marijuana is capable of altering users’ behavior to a point where it “creates a potential harm to others when the user engages in driving, flying and other activities involving complex machinery.” The majority concluded that, “Vulnerable groups are at particular risk, including adolescents with a history of poor school performance, pregnant women and persons with pre-existing conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, schizophrenia or other drug dependencies.”
The majority said it is constitutional for the government criminalize marijuana based on public health concerns even as it does not do the same regarding the greater dangers associated with alcohol or tobacco use.
Dissenters said the government failed to prove that the risks of marijuana use are serious and warrant the use of criminal sanctions. “The state cannot prevent the general population, under threat of imprisonment, from engaging in conduct that is harmless to them, on the basis that other, more vulnerable persons may harm themselves if they engage in it, particularly if one accepts that imprisonment would be inappropriate for the targeted vulnerable groups,” said one dissent.
Three men convicted of marijuana offenses had asked the court to declare the law unconstitutional because the drug is harmless. An estimated 100,000 Canadians use the drug daily.
The Canadian government has moved gingerly to reduce or drop penalties. Last week, Prime Minister Paul Martin intimated he will reintroduce a bill that would wipe out criminal penalties for those caught with small amounts of marijuana.