Pubdate: Sat, 03 May 2003
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2003 The Toronto Star
Author: Tim Harper, Washington Bureau


Trade At Risk, Warns Drug Czar

Decriminalization Called A Mistake

WASHINGTON--Welcome to the latest flashpoint in Canada-U.S. relations, one 
that has nothing to do with regime change or war and everything to do with pot.

Even as the wounds from a winter of bilateral discontent fester, Washington 
this week sharpened its attack on Prime Minister Jean Chretien's plans to 
decriminalize marijuana, indicating a move most Canadians are prepared to 
accept with a shrug is seen as an affront to the administration of U.S. 
President George W. Bush.

John Walters, Bush's drug czar, said the Liberal government hasn't done its 
homework in studying data to justify the move and accused Ottawa of 
allowing "poison" to be shipped to his country.

He implied the Chretien Liberals were naive and have no plans to deal with 
the "explosion" of high-potency pot -- which he called the crack cocaine of 
marijuana -- being grown in British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec and Ontario.

The U.S. threat is clear. If Chretien doesn't blink, the U.S. will have to 
slow down the movement of goods across the border.

Walters said a flood of Canadian pot moving south becomes an American 
problem, meaning increased border patrols.

"You expect your friends to stop the movement of poison to your 
neighbourhood," Walters said. "And that is what's going on here. If we were 
sending toxic substances to your young people, you would be and should be 

In short, Canada is being seen in some quarters here as a pot-crazed, 
irresponsible nation living in the late 1960s.

First, we're soft on Saddam. Now, we're soft on pot.

Canadian officials privately believe it is Washington that's stuck in a 
time warp, taking the world back to an earlier era of Reefer Madness.

When a Canadian Senate committee called for legalization of pot and the 
House of Commons followed with a recommendation of decriminalization, there 
were gusts of displeasure from Walters and his colleagues, but nothing like 
this week's gale of protest. In Vancouver, where the city is working to 
open up the first injection site for drug users, David Murray, an assistant 
to Walters, went further on threats of border slowdowns. He said it would 
be "regrettable" to see the "loss of the mutual co-operative partnership 
we've had with Canadians regarding our borders, regarding the integrity of 
the hemisphere, regarding our commerce, regarding the implications of trade 
and value to ourselves."

In Canada, where decriminalizing pot possession has been off and on the 
public agenda for more than three decades, the first impulse was to ignore 
the complaints from the south, but that also changed this week.

"The difficulty we have with Mr. Walters' comments is, are they driven by 
ideology or are they based on facts?" said Richard Mosley, a federal 
justice official in charge of criminal law policy. "On the evidence, the 
decriminalization experience in some states, Australia and Western Europe 
does not increase the use of cannabis."

There is a huge gulf in philosophy toward marijuana control between Canada 
and the U.S., Mosley said.

"The United States has zero tolerance to possession and trafficking, while 
the approach of many other countries is to try to reduce the harm," he 
said. "The approach in the U.S. has been to absolutely prevent the use of 

Marijuana possession will still be illegal in Canada, Mosley says, and this 
country is not shirking any of its international responsibilities toward 
drug control. Other sources have indicated that any move to decriminalize 
possession would come in tandem with a crackdown on large-scale growing 
operations which have sprung up in Ontario and British Columbia.

"We have to keep things in perspective," Mosley said. "The amount of 
cannabis produced in Canada is a small proportion of that produced 
domestically by the United States or smuggled into the United States from 
other countries."

According to the United Nations, 2 per cent of the cannabis seized 
worldwide in 2002 was nabbed in Canada, while 5 per cent came from the 
United States and 46 per cent came from Mexico.

The Chretien government has studied the Australian model, in which tickets 
are issued for those charged with marijuana possession.

A Canadian analysis of the Australian laws showed no increase in cannabis use.

As many as 14 U.S. states have also loosened marijuana laws, and some have 
eliminated the possibility of jail for possession since the 1970s.

None of that matters to Walters.

"The RCMP tells me privately that they are frustrated that the political 
leadership in Canada simply does not support stiff sentences and simply 
hasn't come to grips with this problem," he said in the interview. "If you 
look at anywhere in the world, at any time in history you want, when you 
reduce the deterrent forces in society for using drugs, you get more drug 
use and you get more drug trafficking."

He also said it is "particularly troubling" that -- in his view -- Canadian 
officials have admitted to him there is no reliable data in Canada about 
how many people smoke pot, how many people are dependent on it and what age 
groups use it.

Justice Minister Martin Cauchon told reporters this week there are 100,000 
cannabis users in Canada, although he did not define the term "user."

"In the absence of any data, there is apparently a certainty that 
decriminalizing doesn't cause trafficking, despite every single example 
everywhere in the world is the reverse," Walters said.

Walters used an analogy many Canadians might find amusing -- gun control. 
If laws were relaxed on possession of illegal weapons, he asked, does 
anyone believe there would be a decrease in gun crime?

"That would be ludicrous. The same principle applies to drugs," he said.

U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci told reporters in Ottawa yesterday the 
decriminalization of pot could cause tensions at the border if there is a 
perception it has become easier to get hold of marijuana in Canada, the 
Star's Allan Thompson reported.

"No one has seen the proposal yet," he said. "Does it actually make it more 
difficult to get marijuana? Is the enforcement of the civil penalty going 
to be a strong one? Are the criminal penalties for those who grow 
marijuana, are they going to be strengthened?

"I think it comes down to a perception. If the perception is that it might 
be more easy to get marijuana here, then that could lead to some pressure 
on the border because U.S. customs and immigration officers are law 
enforcement officers. And they would have their antenna up as people were 
going over from Canada and into the United States."

Asked about U.S. concerns, Deputy Prime Minister John Manley said, "We do 
need to have a discussion with the United States about it to make sure that 
they understand what it is we intend to do," the Star's Les Whittington 

Manley said Ottawa "believes this approach could enable more resources to 
be directed to enforcement against trafficking and production, which ought 
to reduce the problem rather than contribute to it."

He said U.S. concerns could cause slowdowns at the border if 
decriminalization in Canada increases the likelihood of more trafficking of 
the illegal drug into the U.S. But "I don't think we have evidence that 
decriminalization of the possession of small amounts of marijuana is 
necessarily going to lead to increased smuggling. I think that's a bit of a 

Walters praised efforts of the Mexican and Colombian governments, saying 
they have made efforts to cut into the cocaine trade while the Canadian pot 
situation "is out of control.

"I've heard a lot of people in Canada talking about how they are doing this 
because there are people clogged in the criminal justice system with 
possession charges," Walters said.

"We don't lock up people for possession here. We have serious criminals in 
jails here."
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