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  • Not This Time: Canadians, Public Policy, and the Marijuana Question, 1961–1975
  • T. Stephen Henderson
Marcel Martel . Not This Time: Canadians, Public Policy, and the Marijuana Question, 1961–1975. University of Toronto Press. x, 278. $27.95

Marcel Martel's Not This Time is a well-researched case study of the complexities of creating public policy within Canada's federal government. Martel examines the debate surrounding marijuana, whether Ottawa should have continued to suppress its use through the criminal code or liberalized the laws. Throughout the period, marijuana remained classified as a narcotic, and its sale, possession, and use could result in criminal prosecution. From 1969, Crown prosecutors and judges had the discretion to punish possession of marijuana with a fine, and those convicted could apply later to have their criminal records expunged. In effect, this is a study of inertia in public policy as the federal government made no changes in the legal status of marijuana.

Martel's approach to this long public policy debate appears straight-forward: he examines the rise of recreational drugs as an issue, driven by media coverage and the blossoming counterculture; he discusses a number of interest groups that attempted to shape the debate and influence legislation; he recounts the hearings of the Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs (the Le Dain Commission); and he explores the factors that kept Parliament from passing any legislation at all. Each section is deftly handled, but his analysis of interest groups is both the strongest and weakest part of the book.

It is clear that the persistent opposition of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to any change in Canada's drug laws, the ambiguous position on marijuana taken by the Canadian Medical Association, and the failure of student groups to build alliances with any external interest group opened the door for Ottawa to choose delay and inaction. Martel's account of the methods and effectiveness of these interest groups is solid, as is his look at the influence senior bureaucrats could wield within government. His biggest challenge – one he meets with mixed success – is the category of 'youth.'

By the late 1960s the public perceived marijuana as a drug of youth, not attached to a particular class or ethnic group. And it is probable, as Martel suggests, that the thought of middle-class kids going to jail and carrying a lifelong criminal record for smoking a joint spurred many Canadians to favour a liberalization of drug laws. Martel's methodology is tied to interest groups and bureaucratic processes, and 'youth' does not fit neatly into this pattern. He chooses to focus on university students and their tactics of political activism, including symposiums, petitions, and referenda. On the one hand, this illustrates some of the reasons for the failure of the liberalization movement; university groups had constant turnover of membership and they [End Page 404] rejected almost everything they heard from the Establishment, even when it could lend support to their cause. Youth, however, were politically active beyond the bounds of student unions, and one could make a case that smoking pot was a political act, as Doug Owram suggests in Born at the Right Time: A History of the Baby-Boom Generation (1996). More importantly, the majority of youth never went to university and they are largely absent from this book. Martel mentions the 'villages' of Gastown, Yorkville, and the carré Saint-Louis, but more attention is paid to the University of Toronto's 1967 Perception symposium than to these public spaces where laws were flouted and a marijuana-friendly lifestyle was on display.

Beyond this limitation in his methodology, Martel has produced a very strong study of how the public and the state grapple with a divisive issue. His primary and secondary research is thorough, and his analysis of how much or little influence an interest group can wield is instructive. Finally, Martel's account of the Le Dain Commission and its context is exemplary. This book is recommended to those interested in the development of public policy and legislation on non-medicinal drugs.

T. Stephen Henderson
Henderson, Department of History and Classics, Acadia University

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 404-405
Launched on MUSE
2008-06-04
Open Access
No
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