Pubdate: Tue, 27 May 2003
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2003, The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Kim Lunman, Brian Laghi, Canadian Press
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)
Bookmark: (Cannabis and Driving)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


$240-Million Federal Antidrug Strategy Will Accompany Looser Marijuana Laws

OTTAWA -- The federal government plans to spend up to $240-million to 
convince Canadians of the evils of pot smoking even as it unveils a bill 
today to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The government is to introduce its controversial legislation amid growing 
opposition from Liberal backbenchers who are urging a delay. As many as 20 
Liberal MPs oppose the legislation.

"I don't believe this is right," Brenda Chamberlain said in an interview 
yesterday. The MP from Guelph, Ont., sent Prime Minister Jean Chretien a 
letter urging him to reconsider. "I'm really frustrated. I think this is a 
wrong turn for our government and it's a wrong turn for our kids."

Federal sources said the $240-million will pay for a new national drug 
strategy to be announced today that will include a communications and 
education campaign to spread the message that cannabis smoking is harmful 
and will still be illegal.

The cash will be dispensed over five years, sources said, and will be spent 
in several areas, including research and surveillance. The government is 
concerned that the new legislation should not encourage marijuana use. 
Ottawa also wants to prevent the so-called normalization of pot smoking in 
the way that cigarette smoking once was socially acceptable.

The government plans to set up a special secretariat responsible for the 
strategy, sources said.

Opponents say the new drug strategy has been hastily put together since the 
government's plans to decriminalize marijuana drew growing criticism from 
police, Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada and government MPs.

"Marijuana is not the soft drug its proponents would like us to accept," 
Ontario Liberal member Joe Volpe said in an interview. "I believe it's a 
gateway drug. . . . It's going to be a pretty convincing argument to get me 
to vote for it."

Under the proposed measure, people caught with 15 grams or less -- the 
equivalent of about 15 joints -- would be ticketed and fined as little as $100.

The Liberal majority is expected to pass the bill despite the dissension, 
although caucus members say the rift could widen.

"It's clear that there are some problems," Dan McTeague, MP for 
Pickering-Ajax-Uxbridge, said yesterday. He plans to hold a news conference 
in Ottawa today after Justice Minister Martin Cauchon, Solicitor-General 
Wayne Easter and Health Minister Anne McLellan outline the legislation and 
the drug strategy. "There's obviously going to be a showdown."

Ms. McLellan bristled at suggestions that the national drug strategy is an 
afterthought to soft-sell decriminalization, saying it has been one of her 
priorities for the past 18 months.

"One would hope nobody would smoke, whether it's tobacco or marijuana," she 
said. "At the end of the day, we would like everybody to quit smoking."

Canadian Alliance MP Randy White, a member of a parliamentary committee 
studying non-medical drugs, said the government is putting the cart before 
the horse.

"They didn't know whether they were coming or going on the strategy. For 
them to now say they've been working on it for 18 months is hogwash."

The Canadian Police Association wants marijuana possession to remain a 
criminal offence, contending that cannabis leads to more serious drug use.

But Mr. Cauchon said yesterday he has no plans to back down from the 
legislation, which he says is necessary to prevent hundreds of thousands of 
Canadians from clogging up the courts and obtaining criminal records for 
smoking small amounts of marijuana.

"We expect a good policy for Canadians," he said. "We'll send a message in 
terms of the question of law enforcement . . . and stress that use of 
marijuana is illegal and harmful to society."

RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli said Sunday he was "looking forward" 
to the proposed package as part of a larger antidrug strategy.

"If we have a comprehensive package, it will not harm the work that we do . 
. . in my view," he said on CTV's Question Period.

One of the most contentious issues surrounding the new legislation is how 
the federal government will handle cases in which motorists are found with 
small quantities of marijuana or discovered driving while under its influence.

MADD Canada has been lobbying Ottawa to include law enforcement in the 
legislation to nab people driving under the influence.

But the group has been told that such changes could not be made for a year 
because of a lack of training and police officers.

"This is playing politics and putting legacy over public safety," said 
Andrew Murrie, national executive director of MADD Canada.
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