Pubdate: Thu, 19 Jun 2003
Source: Rocky View Times (CN AB)
Copyright: 2003 Rocky View Times.
Author: Samara Cygman


Marijuana may be on the road to decriminalization, but it is still illegal.

This message comes from Cochrane RCMP as talk of the new legislation fuels 

"The commissioner of the RCMP, (Giuliano) Zaccardelli, has come out in 
support of decriminalization of marijuana," said Cochrane RCMP Const. Patty 

"But we just want to make sure the people in Cochrane are aware that 
decriminalization does not mean legalization. It is still an offence to be 
in possession of marijuana, even in small amounts."

The federal government's new marijuana legislation is sending mixed 
messages to youth, takes away an officer's discretion and will eventually 
tie up more police resources, predicts Raf Souccar, vice-chair of the 
Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police's drug abuse committee.

"It's receiving opposition from politicians, it's receiving opposition from 
the police community, it's receiving opposition from Mothers Against Drunk 
Drivers and it's receiving opposition from, believe it or not, the 
pro-legalizers," said Souccar, explaining under the current legislation 
anyone caught with pot would most likely go to court and get off with a 
warning. Under the proposed legislation, people caught would have to pay.

"Right now it's easier for a police officer to grab the joint, not charge 
and let the person go. With a ticket -- it's really easy to write a ticket 
so at the end of the day, enforcement will be stepped up."

The Cannabis Reform Bill, tabled in Ottawa on May 27, proposes to 
decriminalize possession of under 15 grams of marijuana by removing it from 
the Criminal Code of Canada.

"We don't like to use the word 'decriminalize.' It is misunderstood by the 
media, by the public and most importantly youth. Marijuana is illegal and 
continue to be illegal," said Souccar, adding he prefers to use the words 
alternative measures.

Under the new legislation, possession of 15 grams or under will result in a 
fine of $150 for an adult and $100 for a youth.

If aggravating factors exist, like possession occurs in a vehicle or in a 
school zone, the fine raises to $400 for an adult and $250 for a youth.

"There are aggravated circumstances that require someone to be charged 
criminally and the fine just doesn't cut it," said Souccar. "We need to 
maintain our discretion to charge for possession of marijuana."

Police retain the discretion to either ticket or charge people caught with 
15 to 30 grams.

Souccar predicts it may tie up more police resources in the end, when 
people start "thumbing their nose" at tickets.

"If people want to contest the tickets, then we are into having to have the 
drugs analyzed, going to court, having the trial. If the worse that can 
happen to you is the fine that you just got, why not contest it?" pointed 
out Souccar.

Medicinal marijuana activist and multiple sclerosis sufferer Grant Krieger, 

"Anybody who is picked up now smoking and is sick, has to go in front of a 
judge and it's going to cost money to defend themselves," said Krieger. 
"What they are going to end up getting is alternative measures when they 
shouldn't have any measures put against them."

The new laws also propose to get tougher on marijuana grow operations by 
toughening penalties for growers.

Anyone found in possession of one to three plants could face a maximum 
penalty of $5,000 fine and/or 12 months in jail.

Those fines are split into four categories -- the maximum being 50 or more 
plants. Growers could face a maximum of 14 years, which is double the 
current penalty for that crime.

"Right now it's seven years for anything but we don't need to have the law 
increased. Seven years is fine. The problem is, judges aren't giving these 
types of sanctions. What we need to do is make sure the application of the 
sanctions by the courts is more consistent. If the courts get tough, the 
sentence right now is OK," said Souccar.

Krieger says driving up the sentence for cultivators will only result in 
driving up the price for buyers.

"With these new increased fines for cultivating, what they're doing is 
driving up the black market price, because when the risk becomes higher, 
costs become higher," said Krieger. "They are penalizing those who are ill."

He explained sick people in society usually don't work and are surviving on 
fixed incomes.

"How many people who are ill and living on AISH (Assured Income for the 
Severely Handicapped) can afford this? I can't," he said.

The federal government pledges $245 million over five years toward an 
education and prevention strategy that would step up public awareness 
campaigns, increase funding for research on drug trends and set up a 
biennial national conference to set research, promotion and prevention agendas.

"We've wanted treatment, education, awareness, research. We've never done 
research on marijuana. There are over 400 chemical ingredients in 
marijuana. Let's find out what the benefits of marijuana are, and what the 
harms are," said Souccar.

He is concerned there are things the legislation doesn't address, for 
example there is no mechanism right now to test whether drivers were 
smoking weed while driving.

"If you're behind the wheel, smoking and I pull you over for speeding, and 
you lower your window and blow some smoke in my face, the best I can do is 
give you a ticket," said Souccar.

There are also things this legislation makes easier for people to get away 

For example, if someone is trafficking and carries only 15 grams on their 
person at a time, the concern is they are selling to children -- even 
though they aren't big-time dealers.

Or would everyone be able to claim 15 grams and get off without a record if 
there are five people in a room and 75 grams on the table?

"There's a lot of things that we thought about that we don't believe are 
properly addressed," said Souccar.

On the other hand, the ticketing option is one the police were pushing for 
because it's an alternative measure to enforce an illegal act without 
"throwing the book at somebody."

Krieger said he's happy smokers caught with small amounts will no longer 
have to face a criminal record, but the legislation is doing more harm than 

"I'm glad that recreational smokers caught with a small amount of illicit 
drugs now won't have a criminal record -- which would bar them from travel 
or getting a job," he said.

"But the government has helped fuel a really bad problem by doing what 
they' ve done.

They haven't let any allowances in there for people who are ill, there is 
no legal source for people who are ill to get their medicine from. The next 
thing is the increased fines for the cultivators and the jail time -- it's 
going to drive up the price of pot."

Whether the government has fuelled a bad problem or not, the Cochrane RCMP 
plans to enforce all laws set out by the feds.

"It's always been our mandate to enforce the laws as provided by the 
government of Canada in relation to marijuana," said Neely.

"Whatever the government decides is appropriate laws, the RCMP will enforce."
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