Pubdate: Thu, 26 Feb 2004
Source: Meliorist, The (CN AB Edu)
Copyright: 2004 The Meliorist.
Author: Sean Patrick Sullivan, Atlantic Bureau (CUP)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Legislation to decriminalize marijuana possession was reintroduced into 
Parliament earlier this month, but both friends and foes of the drug are 
criticizing the bill.

The legislation, first introduced in March of 2003, died when Parliament 
adjourned in November, and spent some time with a special committee before 
being brought back to the House.

Since its last reading, the bill has been amended to reduce penalties and 
eliminate jail time for those caught with one to three marijuana plants.

Robin Ellis is the proprietor of the Friendly Stranger and Cannabis Culture 
Shop, an activist organization dedicated to changing the laws surrounding 
cannabis use. He says they're a little frustrated.

"Obviously the government's realizing that people want change, but I don't 
think they're clueing in at all to the magnitude of this issue and how 
seriously it needs to be addressed," he explained.

"The bill really does little other than remove the criminal record for 
small-time possession. It doesn't resolve or rectify the situation in any 
way, shape, or form." Under the new bill, possession of 15 grams or less of 
pot would be a ticketing offence, carrying fines of $100 to $400.

Possession of one to three plants would involve a fine of $500 for adults 
and $250 for people under 17 years old. Currently, the penalty is a maximum 
fine of $5,000 or a year in jail.

The official opposition is critical as well, but for different reasons.

"The issue of marijuana is much more complex than this legislation deals 
with," said Randy White, a Conservative MP who has been at the forefront 
over the legalization debate.

"The decriminalization bill has some serious flaws in it," he said. "Either 
they don't understand or choose not to understand the consequences of what 
they're doing."

Officials from the Justice Department have said the bill will prevent those 
caught with small amounts of the drug from ending up with a criminal 
record, something that can forever damage employment opportunities, among 
other things.

Regardless, most are confident the bill won't pass.

"There will probably be an election called, Parliament will be dissolved, 
and thus the cycle will begin again," said Lyle Kenny, an executive member 
with the Marijuana Party of Canada.

The bill also increases charges for trafficking, as those caught with four 
to 25 plants could be faced with fines of up to $25,000, as well as up to 
five years in jail.

Another amendment prohibits the sharing of information relating to 
marijuana prosecution with any foreign governments or agencies, including 
the United States.
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