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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs
Volume I - General Orientation

Chapter 2

Our Work

Designing, developing and implementing public policy is the very essence of the role of government, of political life in the broad sense. This fundamental activity presupposes a choice between various alternatives and, in a democratic system, an explanation and justification of the choice that has been made. A public policy, regardless of its object, stands at the confluence of various influences: partisan political considerations of course, economic considerations as well, even increasingly so. However, if it lays claim to a certain degree of rationality and citizen support, a public policy must also be based on rigorous and objective data, preferably from scientific research, and on an understanding of society's expectations and resistance. Lastly, a public policy, in our view, should be founded on, and at the same time promote, guiding principles. By that, we mean a clear and express vision of the principles that guided the choice among various alternatives and that reflect a conception of government and of the relationship between government institutions and civil society.

From the outset, our Committee chose to remain above partisan issues. This is the advantage of belonging to the Senate, which makes it possible to take, on various questions, a more objective view not influenced by concern for re‑election. Economic considerations affected us in two different ways. The first, a trivial matter, was related to the budgets allocated to us, which necessarily limited the scope of our work, the second to the economic impact of various public policy options which are discussed in Chapters 18 and 21.

Our work thus focused on the other three sources that should influence a choice of public policy on illegal drugs: knowledge, public opinion and guiding principles.

At the Committee's public hearings, the Chair presented the research program as follows:


In order to fully satisfy the mandate conferred upon the committee, the committee has adopted an action plan. This plan centres around three challenges. The first challenge is that of knowledge. We will be hearing from a wide variety of experts, both from Canada and afar, from academic settings, the police, legal specialists, medical specialists, the government sector and social workers. (…)

The second challenge, surely the most noble challenge, is that of sharing knowledge. The committee hopes that Canadians from coast to coast will be able to learn and share the information that we will have collected. In order to meet this challenge, we will work to distribute this knowledge and make it accessible to all. We would also like to hear the opinions of Canadians on this topic and in order to do so, we will be holding public hearings in the spring of 2000 throughout Canada.

And finally, the third challenge for this committee will be to examine and identify the guiding principles on which Canada's public policy on drugs should be based. [1][1]


This chapter describes the various measures we took to ascertain the state of knowledge and public opinion on cannabis and to determine guiding principles. Chapter 3 presents our guiding principles in detail, while Parts II and III outline all the information we were able to gather. First, however, a few words on two working principles which we considered essential to the complete realization of this Committee's mandate.



[1][1]  Senate of Canada (2001) The Proceedings of the Special Committee on Illegal Drugs. Issue No. 1, page 23.

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