Pubdate: Sat, 05 Oct 2002
Source: Deseret News (UT)
Copyright: 2002 Deseret News Publishing Corp.
Author: Campbell Clark, Toronto Globe and Mail
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


OTTAWA - A move toward possibly decriminalizing marijuana brought warnings 
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 Toronto Globe and Mail.

While 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.

Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., said decriminalization would make Canada a center 
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," Souder, 
chairman of the House subcommittee on criminal justice, drug policy and 
human resources, said in an interview Tuesday. "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 Prime Minister Jean Chretien's government, in a major policy speech 
covering a wide range of topics, signaled this week that it is moving 
toward liberalizing marijuana laws by including the "possibility" of 
decriminalization in its blueprint of government 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.

Walters, President 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.
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