Newsbrief: Canadian Government Reintroduces Marijuana Decriminalization Bill 2/20/04

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The Canadian government of Prime Minister Paul Martin reintroduced the marijuana decriminalization bill that failed last fall when then Prime Minister Jean Chretien adjourned parliament prior to stepping down. Bill C-10 would decriminalize possession of less than 15 grams of pot. People caught by police would be ticketed and would be subject of fines up to $110 US for adults or $75 US for youth. Those caught in possession of between 15 and 30 grams could be either ticketed or charged with a criminal offense at the discretion of the officer involved.

This year, the government has accepted some amendments to the bill, including one that would also decriminalize the cultivation of up to three plants. Under last year's version, small-time cultivation would have garnered up to a year in jail and a fine of up to almost $4,000. Both versions contain stiffer penalties for people operating larger grows.

And in a rebuff to the Americans, who had made noises about using records of marijuana tickets as a means of barring Canadians from traveling to the States, the government also accepted an amendment that would make it a criminal offense for Canadian officials "to knowingly disclose to a foreign government or international organization" the name of anyone ticketed for possession.

The bill remains unpopular both with drug warriors and drug reformers. For the former it is too much; for the latter, too little. "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 federal New Democratic Party (NDP) opposes this bill because it falls short of the government's promises of decriminalization," said Member of Parliament Libby Davies, NDP's social policy critic. "The federal NDP has long advocated for the full decriminalization of marijuana and for a drug policy that does not primarily rely only on the police and criminal justice system. If enacted, the bill may well lead to increased prosecutions and waste of resources. Replace charges with fines, and people the police would let off with a warming and a wave under the old system will instead be hit with a fine. In other words, decriminalization could lead to more people being punished, not fewer."

But the Liberal Party controls the government with a solid parliamentary majority, and Prime Minister Martin did reintroduce the bill, signaling that the government is serious about pushing it through. Martin and his Liberal Party, however, are currently being kept busy and on the defensive with a $100 million corruption scandal, and elections are expected to be called sometime this spring, so the bill's fate remains to be seen.

Read Bill C-10 online at:
http://www.parl.gc.ca/37/3/parlbus/chambus/house/bills/government/C-10/C-10_1/90229bE.html

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