Pubdate: Wed, 14 May 2003
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2003 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Paul Samyn


Let MPs See It, NDP, Tories Fume

OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Jean Chretien yesterday maintained his government 
will continue to take a tough line on drug trafficking and sent Justice 
Minister Martin Cauchon to Washington to soothe U.S. fears over plans to 
decriminalize pot.

"We are modernizing the sentences for marijuana; we are not making it 
legal," Chretien said following a cabinet discussion of the bill, which 
could be introduced as early as tomorrow.

"They (penalties) will be different. They will be tougher for the growers, 
the traffickers, and less tough for the people who use it in small 
quantities, but it is still illegal."

However, the Liberals came under fire for being soft on Canadian 
sovereignty, with Chretien's foes accusing him of bowing to U.S. pressure 
on the drug bill.

NDP parliamentary leader Bill Blaikie took aim at Chretien for allowing 
Cauchon to give U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft a sneak peek at the 
marijuana bill last night.

"The one thing that did not seem to occur to the prime minister was to put 
down the new marijuana law here in Parliament for members of Parliament, 
who should have seen it first," said Blaikie (Winnipeg Transcona). "I ask 
the prime minister: Why this contempt for Parliament?" Tory Leader Joe 
Clark said the Liberals are clearly more concerned with what the Americans 
think about the bill that with the opinions of Canada's elected 

"I wish this government, which talks so much about Canadian sovereignty, 
would bring its proposals to the Parliament of Canada before it took them 
to the government of the United States," Clark said.

Cauchon's plan to decriminalize cannabis would fine small-time pot users as 
little as $100. The fine would apply to those caught with less than 15 
grams of marijuana. The apparent threshold for the fine is about half of 
the 30-gram amount recommended by a Commons committee last fall. The 
special committee on the non-medical use of drugs said pot poses health 
risks and it would be a mistake to legalize it, as a Senate committee had 

However, the Commons committee also said it would be wrong to continue to 
treat the large number of Canadians who smoke small amounts of cannabis as 

Currently, convictions for simple possession can result in up to six months 
in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

Cauchon's dinner last night with Ashcroft came as the Liberals try to 
respond to longstanding U.S concerns about any move to soften the country's 
pot laws. Fearing an increased flow of potent marijuana south into the 
U.S., the Bush administration has warned of delays at the Canadian border 
for searches of vehicles as part of its war on drugs. Cauchon said his 
meeting with Ashcroft will only outline in broad terms the contents of his 

"They are our partners," Cauchon told reporters. "It is important to inform 
them of what we are doing as a general rule and tell them about our goals."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Alex