HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Canada Considers Easing Marijuana Laws
Pubdate: Mon, 15 Jul 2002
Source: Buffalo News (NY)
Copyright: 2002 The Buffalo News
Author: Barry Brown, News Toronto Bureau
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


TORONTO - Just days after Britain announced plans to soften its laws on 
possession of marijuana, officials with the office of Canadian Justice 
Minister Martin Cauchon said Canada might follow the British lead.

Justice Department officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said 
last week that Cauchon is considering lessening the penalties for 
possession of marijuana to a fine rather than a prison term.

A few months ago, the Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs 
issued a preliminary report criticizing the government's current drug policy.

According to the report, an estimated 30 to 50 percent of Canadians age 15 
to 24 have used marijuana despite efforts to eradicate its use, and nearly 
30,000 people a year face criminal charges for simple possession. This 
amounts to half of all drug charges in Canada, and while 25 percent of 
those are typically discharged, the rest face criminal records.

In 2000, Canadian police departments reported a total of 87,945 drug- 
related offenses - three-quarters of which involved marijuana. The number 
of police-reported incidents involving marijuana increased from 47,234 in 
1996 to 66,171 incidents in 2000.

"When you examine cannabis usage among youth, you realize that 
(criminalizing it) has absolutely no effect," said Sen. Pierre Claude 
Nolin, chairman of the special committee.

The committee also reported that scientific evidence suggests that 
marijuana use does not automatically drive people to use "harder" drugs 
such as cocaine and heroin.

The federal government has also financed a medical marijuana farm in an 
abandoned Manitoba mine, though it has yet to offer the government- 
financed drug for those on its medical-use list.

While Canada criminalized marijuana use in 1923 - 14 years before the 
United States - and the nation still fines tens of thousands of people 
every year for possession, "compassion clubs" where marijuana is 
distributed to desperately ill people for pain relief operate openly in 
several provinces, and police in Vancouver often turn a blind eye to cafes 
where marijuana is smoked.

In Canada, all criminal laws are national, so any change in federal 
marijuana laws will affect the entire country, rather than just a single 

However, the biggest concern for Canadian lawmakers contemplating a 
softening of marijuana penalties is not the reaction at home but in the 
offices of politicians south of the border.

Some U.S. politicians are worried that any softening of Canada's marijuana 
laws would lead to a surge of Americans crossing the border to take 
advantage of the softer drug laws. In New York State, marijuana-related 
offenses are punishable by fines ranging from $100 to $5,000 and by prison 
sentences of up to 15 years.

Earlier this year, U.S. Rep. Mark E. Souder, R-Ind., chairman of the House 
subcommittee on criminal justice, drug policy and human resources, warned 
visiting Canadian politicians that America would crack down even harder on 
border controls between the two countries if Canada softened its marijuana 
laws. Souder was the author of a U.S. law that bans Americans with drug 
convictions from receiving federal student loans.

Despite this, Vancouver Mayor Phillip Owen said that drug use was a health 
matter, not a criminal one, and that the money spent prosecuting marijuana 
charges represents a staggering drain on public resources.

Some observers, however, think that the United States is a toothless tiger 
regarding Canada's drug policy. Ethan A. Nadelmann, director of the Drug 
Policy Alliance, a U.S. group seeking changes in drug laws, said that trade 
between the two nations is too important and that any U.S. reaction would 
be limited to verbal condemnation.

Cauchon is to discuss his plans for changes in marijuana laws during a 
meeting of the Canadian Bar Association next month.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager