Pubdate: Wed, 02 Oct 2002
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2002, The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Campbell Clark
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


OTTAWA -- A move toward possibly decriminalizing marijuana brought warnings 
yesterday from U.S. officials and lawmakers, who cautioned that Canada 
should not succumb to "myths" and warned of new disruptions to border trade.

The Bush administration's drug czar, John Walters, said decriminalization 
would be a mistake based on misinformation. "I hope the Canadian government 
does not head down the risky path of decriminalization or legalization," he 
said in a statement sent to The Globe and Mail.

While Mr. Walters said that he respects Canada's right to set its own 
policy, the chairman of a congressional drug-policy committee said he 
believes decriminalization would prompt U.S. lawmakers to tighten border 
controls, disrupting Canada-U.S. trade.

Representative Mark Souder said decriminalization would make Canada a 
centre of supply and traffic of marijuana that would likely cause Congress 
and the Bush administration to take tougher measures to police the border.

"Obviously Canada can do whatever it wants with its laws," Mr. Souder, 
chairman of the House of Representatives subcommittee on criminal justice, 
drug policy and human resources, said in an interview with The Globe and 
Mail. "But to the degree there's less harmonization with our laws, it means 
that the border traffic is going to slow down.

"If there's a higher risk of illegal drugs moving, because 
decriminalization functions as de facto legalization . . . we're not going 
to sit idly by and not check."

The prospect of riling the United States, which maintains a strict policy 
at the federal level against marijuana, is one of the concerns that has 
held the government back from an outright promise to decriminalize the drug.

But in Monday's Speech from the Throne, the government signalled it is 
moving toward liberalizing marijuana laws by including the "possibility" of 
decriminalization in its blueprint of priorities.

Decriminalization would end jail terms, heavy fines and criminal records 
for simple possession of marijuana, replacing them with a minor sanction 
similar to a traffic ticket. That would stop short of full legalization, 
which would allow the open, commercial sale of pot.

Mr. Walters, President George W. Bush's director of national drug control 
policy, argued that moves toward liberalizing pot laws have been fuelled by 
misinformation that suggests marijuana use is not a danger.

"We recognize Canada's sovereignty, but caution the Canadian people not to 
fall for the same myths about marijuana that far too many Americans have 
fallen for," he said in the statement.

"We have learned through hard experience that marijuana is a dangerous drug 
with serious public health and social consequences, and I hope the Canadian 
government does not head down the risky path of decriminalization or 

The political momentum for relaxing pot laws is growing in Canada, however. 
The Canadian Medical Association has estimated that 1.5 million Canadians 
regularly smoke pot, and polls show that almost half of Canadians favour 
legalization while more -- some surveys say seven in 10 -- want 

Last month, a Senate committee called for full legalization, citing several 
studies in rejecting arguments that marijuana is addictive, extremely 
harmful or leads to stronger drugs.

Mr. Souder, an Indiana Republican Indiana, acknowledged that the same 
debate over pot laws is brewing in his country.

But he predicted that those in the administration and Congress who would 
favour tightening border controls in response to decriminalization in 
Canada would win out.
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