Pubdate: Mon, 16 Feb 2004
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Page: A8
Copyright: 2004, The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Kim Lunman


Canadians caught with one to three marijuana plants will face significantly 
lower penalties and no jail time under amendments to the controversial 
federal cannabis bill.

Legislation to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, 
which died when Parliament adjourned in November and was reintroduced in 
the House of Commons last week, has watered down the penalties for 
possession of up to three plants.

The amendment is among several changes to the contentious bill, which has 
angered political critics and police associations.

Under the revived bill, possession of one to three plants would be 
punishable by fines of $500 for adults and $250 for people under 17 years 
old. Before the change, the penalty was a maximum fine of $5,000 or a year 
in jail.

"They've scratched it," Patrick Charette, a Justice Department spokesman, 
said yesterday. "They consider this is not as serious an offence."

Possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana under the revived Cannabis 
Reform Bill would be a ticketing offence, carrying fines of $100 to $400.

Another important amendment prohibits police from sharing information about 
Canadians caught with small amounts of marijuana with authorities in the 
United States or other foreign governments or agencies.

Prime Minister Paul Martin has said he supports the intent of the bill to 
prevent young people caught with a small amount of marijuana from ending up 
with a lifelong criminal record.

But critics see the proposed legislation having less benign results.

"This bill is the worst of both worlds," said Vic Toews, the Conservative 
Party's justice critic.

"The way the bill is drafted it will encourage youths to traffic. This is 
custom-made for low-level trafficking for kids."

"It certainly doesn't win any points with us," said Sophie Roux, a 
spokeswoman for the Canadian Professional Police Association, which 
represents 54,000 officers.

"We think it should be delayed. We don't think it should go ahead. . . . 
We're going to fight it."

The changes, made after a special parliamentary committee held public 
hearings on the bill last fall, include tougher penalties for trafficking.

Canadians caught with four to 25 plants would face a maximum fine of 
$25,000 and up to 18 months in jail as a summary offence. But police would 
also have the discretion to make it an indictable offence, carrying a 
maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Someone caught with 26 to 50 plants would face up to 10 years in prison.

The legislation targets big grow operations: The proposed maximum penalty 
doubles to 14 years, from the current seven, the sentence for possession of 
more than 50 marijuana plants.

The cannabis bill is among 18 introduced by Mr. Martin or reinstated from 
the final mandate of former prime minister Jean Chretien.

They include the Jean Chretien Pledge to Africa Act, a bill to help make 
patented drugs available to poor countries more cheaply; a bill to create a 
national sex-offender registry; another that sets out rules for assisted 
human reproduction; and legislation to toughen the definition of child 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom