Washington Fumes as Canada Moves to Decriminalise

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by Superjoint, Jul 31, 2002.

  1. By Mark Bourrie
    Source: Inter Press Service

    Canada's justice minister is leaning towards striking marijuana possession from the country's criminal code, but he faces tough opposition from the U.S. and the powerful Canadian police lobby.
    Martin Cauchon, a member of the ruling Liberal Party, says it is unfair that people who are caught with marijuana receive criminal records that can prevent them from getting jobs and travelling to foreign countries, especially the United States.

    Cauchon said he wants to wait for the recommendations of Senate and House of Commons committees before deciding whether to wipe marijuana possession from the Criminal Code and make it a non-criminal offence punishable by a fine rather than an arrest.

    A preliminary Senate report said research shows that between 30 and 50 per cent of Canadians between the ages 15 and 24 have used cannabis.

    Earlier this month Cauchon said "of course" he smoked pot in his early years.

    "I'm 39 years old," he told reporters. "Yes, of course I tried it before, obviously. My own experience can't tell you if it's harmful or not."

    The United States, which has the West's toughest drug laws, opposes Canadian decriminalisation because of its relatively open border with its northern neighbour.

    U.S. anti-drug officials are working behind the scenes to discourage Canada's Parliament from liberalizing the laws, officials here say privately.

    Earlier this year, Canadian Health Minister Anne McLellan said that U.S. bureaucrats sabotaged Canada's medicinal marijuana program by denying the government's Health Canada access to the U.S. government's supply of research-quality pot seeds.

    Last spring, U.S. drug tsar John Walters threatened Canada with trade sanctions if Parliament relaxed pot laws. The U.S. government has threatened to cut Jamaica's foreign aid if it goes ahead with plans to decriminalize the drug.

    "The United States has a history of exporting its failed drug policies throughout the globe, and using strong-arm tactics to ensure that other nations do not depart from those policies," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of The NORML Foundation, a U.S.-based group fighting for the repeal of marijuana laws.

    Cauchon said he does not plan to make marijuana possession legal. Instead, Canada is more likely to follow the leads of Switzerland and Britain and make pot possession a minor, non-criminal offence.

    Earlier this month Britain announced it was relaxing its marijuana laws.

    "We're not talking about making it legal, we're talking about the possibility of moving ahead with what we call decriminalisation," the minister said in an interview.

    "The question we have to ask is if the system we have in place is efficient. We want to make sure it will still be illegal. But do we have to keep it criminal?"

    "Maybe we can find a way to keep it illegal and be more constructive, more effective, more efficient as well."

    The annual cost of fighting illegal drugs is at least 315 million U.S. dollars. Each year, more than 30,000 Canadians are charged with simple possession of marijuana, according to The Canadian Press.

    Canada's police want nothing to do with Cauchon's plan.

    "We have to be clear that marijuana is a mind-altering drug," said Mike Niebudek, vice-president of the Canadian Police Association. His group passed a resolution at its last annual meeting pledging to fight relaxation of the possession law.

    Recent U.S. media stories portray Canada as a source of powerful marijuana, grown in houses that have been secretly converted to hydroponic greenhouses. Some 3,000 are believed to exist in Vancouver, in west coast British Columbia province, and at least as many more are said to be scattered throughout the rest of the country.

    Canada's power suppliers have recently complained that they lose millions of dollars a year to these illegal operations, which secretly connect to the power grid in order to power their 24-hour-a-day lights for free.

    Cauchon and officials in his department insist that police would continue to work hard under new laws to catch growers and traffickers.

    But Asa Hutchinson, director of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, predicted that more Canadian-grown cannabis would end up south of the border under relaxed Canadian law.

    "It would probably complicate things somewhat for the U.S.," Mr. Hutchinson said in an interview.

    "If you have lax marijuana policies right across the border, where possession of marijuana is not considered criminal conduct, that invites U.S. citizens into Canada for marijuana use and that will increase the likelihood that both U.S. citizens and Canadian citizens will bring back the Canadian marijuana across the border for distribution and sale."

    The U.S. media has suggested that as much as half of Canada's marijuana already goes south into the United States.

    Hutchinson also fears that any shift in policy in Canada, will rejuvenate a debate on marijuana decriminalisation in the U.S. at a time that the administration is determined to keep the drug strictly illegal.

    "We have great respect for Canada and Britain as well, and if they start shifting policies with regards to marijuana it simply increases the rumblings in this country that we ought to re-examine our policy," said Hutchinson. "It is a distraction from a firm policy on drug use."

    Complete Title: Washington Fumes as Canada Moves to Decriminalise Pot

    Source: Inter Press Service
    Author: Mark Bourrie
    Published: July 26, 2002
    Copyright: 2002 IPS-Inter Press Service
    Contact: online@ips.org
    Website: http://www.ips.org/

    Related Articles & Web Sites:


    Canadian Links

Share This Page