Pubdate: Tue, 02 Nov 2004
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2004 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Alexander Panetta, Canadian Press


Also Re-Tabling Law To Toughen Stance On Drug-Impaired

OTTAWA -- The long push to reform marijuana laws took a big step
forward yesterday as the federal government re-introduced legislation
decriminalizing possession for personal use.

Like identical legislation that died with the federal election call,
Bill C-17 would treat possession of small quantities of pot much like
a speeding ticket.

Instead of jail time, the punishment would be a $150 fine for adults
and $100 for minors holding 15 grams or less -- enough to roll about
30 joints.

But anybody caught with more than 15 grams would still face jail time
- -- with a possible six months in prison -- and a maximum fine of $1,000.

The Liberals moved to silence anti-drug critics by also re-tabling a
bill to toughen the rules against drug-impaired driving.

Police would gain the power to force motorists to submit to drug
testing, and refusal to comply would be punishable by the same laws
against drunk driving. The Liberals appeared set to trumpet the
tougher rules while downplaying the relaxation of marijuana laws in an
effort to stave off criticism from the Conservatives.

"Possession and consumption of marijuana is illegal and will remain
illegal," Justice Minister Irwin Cotler said.

"The only change here revolves around decriminalization for people
holding small quantities."

The Liberals' precarious minority government position means that even
if most of their MPs support Bill C-17 they will need help from the
opposition benches to pass it.

The Bloc Quebecois has only minor concerns with the legislation, said
one party official in an indication that the Liberals could indeed
find that support.

The Conservatives appeared more likely to oppose it, with the party's
justice critic warning it could hurt economic ties with the United
States. "As my constituents say to me, 'We would rather be working
than smoking drugs.' It's as simple as that," said Manitoba MP Vic

"How can this government guarantee there won't be retaliatory actions
by the Americans?"

The Bush administration has warned of a possible traffic slowdown at
the border as U.S. agents search more vehicles for marijuana.

The NDP has some concerns and will push for further loosening of the

The legislation is expected to come up for debate before a
parliamentary committee in two weeks.

The NDP will seek amnesty for the estimated 600,000 Canadians who have
a criminal record because they were caught for simple possession, said
party justice critic Libby Davies.

The party also wants the rules for growing pot at home -- a $500 fine
for adults caught with three plants or less -- to be loosened
slightly, Davies suggested.

Anybody caught with more than three plants faces up to five years in
jail, or 18 months plus a $25,000 fine. Anybody with more than 25
plants could face 10 years in jail.

Similar programs exist in B.C., Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec,
in numerous U.S. states and in several other countries. In Canada,
drivers cannot yet be legally required to submit to drug testing. 
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MAP posted-by: SHeath(DPFFLorida)