Pubdate: Sat, 08 May 2004
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Page: A4
Copyright: 2004, The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Campbell Clark
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


OTTAWA -- The federal election will kill the bill to decriminalize
marijuana, leaving one of Jean Chretien's legacy issues out in the
cold and pot smokers still facing potential jail terms, government
insiders say.

The controversial legislation, which is awaiting a final vote in the
House of Commons, will not make it through Parliament in the one week
left in the session before Prime Minister Paul Martin is expected to
drop the writ to begin an election campaign.

The proposed law, Bill C-10, would have removed jail terms for the
simple possession of less than 15 grams of marijuana. Those caught
with pot in that quantity would have faced the equivalent of a traffic
ticket, costing $100 to $500.

The opposition Conservatives, who opposed the bill, insisted that the
Liberals effectively killed the bill by treating it with deliberate
neglect. It was repeatedly placed at or near the bottom of the list of
bills to be debated, dragging out its progress through the Commons.

"They don't want to get into the issue of drugs, because it's a loser
for them in an election," said MP Randy White, the Conservative
Party's critic on drug policy.

"I think their polling is probably telling them the same thing our
polling is showing -- that it's a loser with families."

The bill is awaiting third reading in the Commons -- the final vote
that would allow it to pass the House. But even if that vote is held
next week, it is not going to pass the Senate in a week. Bills to
implement the budget and to reduce patent restrictions on AIDS drugs
for Africa are the highest priorities, government officials said.

Parliament will sit next week, but a break is scheduled for the week
after -- when the Prime Minister is expected to launch an election

Mr. Martin is widely expected to call an election for June 28, which
means he would drop the writ between May 17 and 23 -- possibly on May
20, before the Victoria Day long weekend.

It means that the decriminalization of marijuana, first debated in the
1970s and proposed as law last year, will be left for a new Parliament
to start all over again.

A federal election dissolves the Parliament and kills all the bills
that have not been passed; the next government would have to start
anew from introduction in the Commons.

Advocates of the bill argued that young people should not face
lifelong criminal records for smoking a joint. The Justice Department
estimates that 100,000 Canadians smoke pot daily.

The bill had faced criticism from the administration of U.S. President
George W. Bush, which suggested the bill would require tougher border
policing, and from the RCMP, who said decriminalizing marijuana
possession would make it harder to police serious drug crimes.
Pro-cannabis activists say the government should go farther and
legalize marijuana.

Mr. White said the government ignored the need for a real national
drug strategy, which would include tougher penalties for so-called
grow-ops, in which large quantities of marijuana are grown, and funds
for local education. The Liberals merely tried to distract from the
need for a broad drug strategy, he said.

Mr. White said that if elected, the Conservatives would not introduce
a decriminalization bill.

"The issue is not decriminalization. The issue is, what do we do with
drugs of all sorts?" Mr. White said.

Liberal government officials said the opposition slowed the progress
of the bill, but Conservative House Leader John Reynolds laughed off
that suggestion.

"There's nothing holding them up," Mr. Reynolds said. "They've got a

The bill was introduced when Mr. Chretien was in office, and Mr.
Martin revived it this year.

Mr. Martin suggested publicly that he thought the bill should be
toughened, but that amendments would be left up to MPs. Instead, it

The Martin government's legislative agenda has remained relatively

Mr. Martin had planned for a short session of Parliament before
calling an April election but pushed back the vote after
Auditor-General Sheila Fraser issued a report in February on the
sponsorship program, which has become a scandal.

Among the bills that will die are the Public Servants Disclosure
Protection Act, also known as the whistle-blower bill, which is
supposed to protect civil servants who report impropriety or
malfeasance within the government. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake