Ottawa trying to calm U.S. fears over pot laws News Staff
Updated: Tue. May. 20 2003 11:39 PM ET

Ottawa is working to ease U.S. concerns over plans to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. Immigration Minister Denis Coderre has met Washington state Gov. Gary Locke, who fears increased U.S. border security could slow trade.

Coderre met Locke on Monday and downplayed the possibility the decriminalization plan could lead to a border crackdown by the U.S.

"We can agree to disagree sometimes, but we are the most natural allies and friends," Coderre said.

"Marijuana is still illegal in our country. We're changing the penalties," he added.

Coderre predicted U.S. fears would be allayed as officials there learn more about the proposal.

Millions of dollars in trade and tourism flow between the U.S. and Canada every day at Washington and other border states. Earlier this month, John Walters, director of the White House office of National Drug Control Policy, warned a Canadian move to ease marijuana laws might prompt border delays.

The Canadian government is expected to introduce legislation soon that would replace jail terms and criminal records with small fines for possession of less than 30 grams of pot.

Coderre said the decriminalization would be part of a broader drug policy.

But U.S. officials fear the Canadian proposal could result in more marijuana crossing the border and result in tighter security measures, disrupting daily trade between the two countries.

Border guards at Washington's crossings with Canada already watch carefully for marijuana coming in from British Columbia, which is widely known as a producer of high-potency pot.

Locke said he wasn't overly concerned about the issue and said he spent most of his meeting with Coderre talking about balancing border safety against the free flow of people and goods.

With a report from Canadian Press

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