Pubdate: Fri, 10 Oct 2003
Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Copyright: 2003 The Edmonton Journal
Author: Sheldon Alberts, Janice Tibbetts


WASHINGTON - The White House's drug czar lashed out Thursday at Jean 
Chretien for relaxing marijuana laws and said Canadians are "ashamed" over 
the prime minister's recent jokes about smoking pot when he retires.

John Walters, director of the National Drug Control Policy Office, said 
Chretien was being irresponsible when he said last week that he might try 
marijuana when he leaves office next February.

Canadians "are concerned about the behaviour of their prime minister, 
joking that he is going to use marijuana in his retirement," Walters said 
to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

"They're ashamed."

Canada is "the one place in the hemisphere where things are going the wrong 
(way) rapidly," Walters added. "It's the only country in this hemisphere 
that's become a major drug producer instead of reducing their drug production."

Justice Minister Martin Cauchon, who is shepherding the federal 
government's marijuana legislation through the House of Commons, responded 
that Walters should "look in his own backyard" before criticizing Chretien.

"There are over 10 states that have in place what we call alternative 
penalties, so you know, if it is not correct to move in that direction, 
maybe he should spend some time talking to his own states," Cauchon said.

Walters' criticisms of Chretien came after an effort by the prime minister 
to make light of his government's controversial decriminalization legislation.

In an interview with the Winnipeg Free Press, Chretien said he had never 
tested marijuana, but might once decriminalization legislation is approved 
by Parliament.

"I don't know what is marijuana. Perhaps I will try it when it will no 
longer be criminal," he said. "I will have money for my fine and a joint in 
the other hand."

Jim Munson, Chretien's director of communications, declined to comment on 
Walters' claim that Canadians are ashamed of their leader.

"I am not going to get into those kind of comments. I mean, they have their 
point of view and we have our point of view," Munson said.

The prime minister, while joking about his own lack of personal experience 
with marijuana, also spoke about the need to crack down on growers and 
dealers of pot, Munson said.

The Chretien government is fast-tracking its legislation through the House 
of Commons in a bid to ensure it receives final passage through Parliament 
by the end of the fall session.

Prime minister-in-waiting Paul Martin has been lukewarm to 
decriminalization and it is expected the bill would be reviewed if it 
doesn't pass before Chretien leaves office early next year.

The bill was handed Thursday to a special parliamentary committee, instead 
of the busy Commons justice committee, which wouldn't be able to hold 
public hearings on the controversial legislation until after Christmas.

The marijuana bill proposes to decriminalize possession of 15 grams or 
less, so that people would be fined from $100 to $400 instead of receiving 
criminal records. But it also seeks to strengthen penalties against 
marijuana grow operations.

The federal government, which is under intense pressure to toughen its 
bill, is seriously considering several amendments. They are:

- - Lowering the amount of pot that would escape criminal charges to 10 grams 
from the current proposal of 15.

- - Imposing criminal sanctions instead of fines on people who are repeatedly 
caught with pot.

- - Adding a minimum mandatory sentence for people convicted of running 
marijuana grow operations. The current bill proposes doubling the maximum 
penalties, but critics say this is useless because judges seldom impose the 
top sentence.
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