Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin announced Wednesday that his government will reintroduce a bill that would make possession of less than 15 grams of marijuana a ticketable offense with no criminal record. This will mark the third time a Liberal Canadian government has introduced the bill. The first time, it died when Prime Minister Jean Chretien stepped down, dismissing Parliament, and it died again earlier this year when Prime Minister Martin dismissed Parliament before last month's national elections.
The bill is the red-headed stepchild of Canadian drug politics, with conservatives reviling it as a cave-in to the forces of decadence but many drug reformers belittling it as going not nearly far enough. While the bill removes criminal sanctions for small-time possession, it increases penalties for all but the smallest marijuana grows. Even the Liberal Party, which as the minority government is sponsoring the bill, does not seem thrilled. Last time around, party leaders announced they would not enforce party discipline -- very tight in a parliamentary system -- and would instead let members have a "conscience vote" on the matter. There is no word yet whether party leaders will allow a "conscience vote" this time around.
But given the results of last month's election, even if every Liberal voted for the measure, it would still have to pick up additional votes. With the second-place Conservative Party firmly opposed, that means Martin will have to look to the third-place Bloc Quebecois or the fourth-place New Democratic Party (NDP) to find the necessary votes. While the Bloc has expressed little interest one way or the other in marijuana legislation, the NDP platform all but calls for legalization of the weed. NDP leaders, who ended up opposing the decrim bill last session because of its weaknesses, have told DRCNet that they believe they will be able to exert more influence to win a better bill from the Liberals now that the Liberals lack a clear majority.
The bill will be introduced in October, when Parliament reconvenes, Martin told reporters Wednesday. "The legislation on marijuana -- the decriminalization of minor quantities of marijuana -- that legislation will be introduced," he said, keeping a promise he had made during the campaign.
Martin's announcement came in the midst of a cannabis-heavy week in Canada. The day after Martin said he would move forward on decrim, Stats Canada released a report finding that marijuana use in Canada had nearly doubled in 13 years. In 1989, Stats Canada found, 6.5% of Canadians over age 15 admitted using cannabis within the previous year; by 2002, that number had risen to 12.2%, or some three million Canadians. About 10 million Canadians, or one-third of the population, have used marijuana at some point in their lives.
The Stats Canada report, the first major study of drug use patterns since the government proposed amending the cannabis laws, found that Canadian use levels are at three times the United Nations estimate of global usage.
While the Stats Canada report is certain to be cited by domestic opponents of the bill, it is also opposed by the US drug war establishment. US Ambassador Paul Cellucci has repeatedly warned that it could result in border delays, while drug czar John Walters has complained loud and long about Canadian marijuana imports to the US.
But yet another report this week, this one from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), punches some big holes in that argument. In its annual assessment of the Canadian drug situation, the RCMP pointed out that while Canadian marijuana exports to the US have been increasing -- seizures were up to about 35,000 pounds last year -- they are dwarfed by imports from Mexico. US authorities seized roughly one million pounds of Mexican pot last year, or about 30 times as much as was seized coming from Canada. But the US remains the major supplier for American tokers, the Mounties said, citing figures from the US National Drug Intelligence Center.
"It's quite clear that we are only a minor supplier of cannabis to the United States," Eugene Oscapella of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy, which advocates regulated legalization of marijuana, told Canada Press.
Still, the Mounties consider pot a big headache. Canadian police forces have seized an average of 1.1 million plants in each of the past five years, the report said. And marijuana enforcement takes up a lot of resources. "For some police forces, investigations into marijuana grow operations represent more than half their drug cases," the report said.
Look for a long, hot, smoking summer at Canada prepares to grapple with cannabis in the fall.
Read the RCMP report, "Drug
Situation in Canada—2003," online at:
Read the Stats Canada report,
"Use of Cannabis and Other Illicit Drugs," online at: