Pubdate: Tue, 03 Jun 2003
Source: Ladysmith-Chemanius Chronicle (CN BC)
Copyright: 2003 BC Newspaper Group & New Media
Author: Rob Shaw
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


The community of Ladysmith reacted strongly to the federal government's 
marijuana decriminalization plan last week.

The legislation will see small amounts of marijuana -- less than 15 grams 
- -- treated as a non-criminal offence. That means Canadians caught with that 
amount will be given fines, rather than arrested and charged.

The fine for possession under 15 grams is $150 for an adult and $100 for a 
youth. If aggravating factors are involved, such as driving or possession 
near a school, fines jump to $400 for an adult and $250 for a youth.

That aspect concerns Reed Elley, Alliance MP for Nanaimo-Cowichan, who said 
he thinks handing out fines akin to traffic tickets gives youth the wrong 

"It's sending the message . . . as if young people get some sort of 
discount for getting caught smoking marijuana," Elley said Tuesday from his 
office in Ottawa.

Elley said his other worries are the strain the new legislation puts on the 

Under the new law, anyone possessing between 15-30 grams of marijuana will 
either be issued a ticket or arrested, depending on the discretion of the 
RCMP officers. Ticket fines for this possession are $300 for an adult, $200 
for a youth, or a criminal conviction up to six months in jail or up to 
$1000 in fines.

"With that kind of discretionary grey area, what if you happen to stop a 
car load of your son's friends?" Elley asked. "It's discretionary and it 
means the application of the law is uneven."

Ladysmith RCMP asked for questions on the legislation to be forwarded to 
its Vancouver office which, in turn, asked for questions to be sent to the 
RCMP in Ottawa.

However, Ladysmith RCMP Staff Sgt. Charlie Schaal agreed to speak about 
marijuana use in general.

Schaal said local police are concerned about marijuana use the same way 
they are concerned about alcohol consumption. The difference, he said, is 
that it remains difficult to determine the level of intoxication on 
marijuana, because officers need to take a blood sample for a reliable reading.

That means it's harder, for example, to keep stoned drivers off the road.

"Why would we add another substance to cause the police problems?" he 
asked. "How can you dictate marijuana usage when you don't have the 
resources in place to offer support?"

Kim Chadwick, youth and families addiction worker at the Ladysmith 
Resources Centre Association, agreed with Schaal, adding decriminalization 
doesn't make a difference from a health and addictions point of view.

"Whether its legal or illegal, drugs cause problems," she said. "So to me, 
whether it's criminalized or decriminalized, it's still a public health issue."

Along with decriminalization legislation, the federal government also 
announced a five-year $250 million fund to educate the public on the 
harmful effects of smoking marijuana.

Elley thinks the fund is a hypocritical gesture by the Liberals.

"How incongruent is it to be putting money into education and at the same 
time seemingly making it easier to get access to it?" he asked.

Hypocritical or not, Chadwick said she thinks money for education is a good 
thing, although she's unsure of the logistics in accessing, distributing, 
and managing the government's money.

If you're looking for the upside to decriminalization, local resident John 
Anderson, chair of the criminology department at Malaspina 
University-College, said it will probably be felt by experimenting youth. 
He said until now, getting caught smoking pot could have left a youth with 
a criminal record, affecting such things as future employment. The fine 
system, he said, makes it a more reasonable punishment for youth.

But Anderson added he could also see a downside to the legislation. He 
thinks lowering penalties on pot, while failing to provide safe ways to 
purchase it, is going to mean all the profit from marijuana goes into the 
pockets of organized crime.

"Who is going to supply that demand?" he said. "Organized crime, that's 
who. That's where we'll see effects in Central Vancouver Island. We're 
feeding organized crime by decriminalizing it."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom