Pot laws include reduced penalties for minors

CTV.ca News Staff
Updated: Fri. May. 16 2003 6:34 PM ET

Ottawa may have delayed plans to decriminalize marijuana, but details of the draft legislation -- including lower penalties for minors and no criminal charges for smoking pot while driving -- are surfacing.

The Globe and Mail reported Friday that the Cannabis Reform Bill will make possession of less than 15 grams of marijuana -- or about 20 joints -- a non-criminal offence with a penalty of $150. Minors would be ticketed $100 for pot possession and their parents would be notified of the infraction.

The draft legislation was supposed to be unveiled in Parliament this week, but sources told CTV's Craig Oliver that resistance from a minority of Liberal backbenchers and from within Health Canada had prompted a delay.

Under the proposed act, police would be able to decide whether to issue a ticket or lay criminal charges in cases where the offender possesses between 15 and 30 grams of pot. Possession of more than 30 grams would still be a criminal offence punishable by jail time.

In cases of "aggravating factors" such as driving under the influence of pot or while possessing marijuana, fines could be increased. For example, smoking and driving could increase the fine to $400 and the offender could be charged with impaired driving.

Smoking in a playground or on the steps of Parliament could also result in increased fines because of the perceived inappropriateness of the act, The Globe says.

The legislation also envisions tougher penalties for commercial pot producers, with four new categories of offences for cultivation.

The proposed marijuana law has prompted criticism south of the border, where penalties for pot use and possession remain strict. Speaking on CTV's Canada AM Friday, John Walters, the U.S. drug czar, noted what goes on inside Canada has no bearing on U.S.-Canada relations.

"It's not our business what happens domestically," Walters said. "I don't think it's going to redefine (our relationship). We're friends, we're going to remain friends," he later added.

Rather than being concerned about the decriminalization of simple possession, U.S. officials are worried about a lack of enforcement of penalties for growing and distribution, the drug czar says.

"What Canada is telling us is that they have an exploding growth of high-potency marijuana," Walters said, adding that the potential for Canadian-grown pot to reach the U.S. poses a threat to citizens south of the border.

"Stepping up penalties that are not enforced is not going to solve the problem," he added.

The Globe reports that the draft legislation will be introduced shortly after parliament returns from a one-week break on May 26.

© Copyright 2003 Bell Globemedia Inc.