Gov't taking a step back on marijuana law News Staff
Updated: Thurs. May. 15 2003 6:24 AM ET

The federal government has delayed plans to introduce legislation that would de-criminalize marijuana possession, apparently because of resistance from inside the Liberal caucus.

Sources told CTV's Craig Oliver the resistance comes from a minority of backbenchers and, more significantly, from within the Health Department.

Health Minister Anne McLellan, upon leaving a caucus meeting Wednesday, said she had expressed concerns about plans to ease penalties for possession of marijuana. She said it could lead to a "spike" in drug use, and eventual long-term health consequences.

She said  research in U.S. states that have decriminalized possesion show that use levels eventually drop back to "normal," but it's important to be prepared all the same.

"Certainly one has to be ready to deal with that spike," she said. "It can lead to addiction, it can lead to all sorts of situations within local communities. You need to be ready with information, with education, and with treatment."

Liberal MPs got their first look at the draft law Wednesday, one day after Justice Minister Martin Cauchon took it to Washington.

Cauchon met with U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft Tuesday evening to brief him on the government's plan in an attempt to calm concerns over Ottawa's plans to decriminalize pot.

The meeting was private and Cauchon's office would not discuss what the pair spoke about. But it was expected Cauchon would stress that although the penalties for possession would be changing, marijuana would remain illegal.

Details of the new bill have not been released to the public. But reports say Cauchon's draft provided a maximum sentence for growers to double from seven to 14 years. But possession for 15 grams or less would result in fines of $200 to $300.

The 15-gram limit for non-criminal possession is half the 30 grams recommended by a Commons committee.

Cauchon, who had planned to introduce the legislation Thursday, said the bill will be tabled in about two weeks.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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