Pot bill will allow for driver testing: Cauchon

TV.ca News Staff
Updated: Wed. May. 28 2003 11:42 PM ET

Justice Minister Martin Cauchon is countering criticism of his newly-unveiled marijuana legislation, saying it will be a better tool for preventing offences like smoking and driving.

Under the proposed bill, possession of small amounts of cannabis -- 15 grams or less of marijuana or one gram of hashish -- will be subject to fines, rather than criminal charges. So-called aggravating factors, such as the use or possession of marijuana while driving or in front of children, will see increased fines, but no jail time -- and that has critics fuming.

"There are some cases where the consequence has to be serious, in the case of a father toking up with his young children, for example; in the case of a prisoner that's in possession of marijuana, there's a lot of trafficking of marijuana in our prison systems in this country; in the case where an individual is driving a vehicle," said Mike Niebudek of the Canadian Police Association.

Cauchon says the proposed bill goes further than current laws because, unlike now, police officers will be able to test drivers for marijuana.

"Whether we decide to move ahead with the reform or not, there doesn't exist any test today," Cauchon told CTV's Canada AM, one day after introducing the pot bill.

"We have to look at the legislation that exists. At the present time, for example, drug impaired driving is a criminal offence ... but the concern that people have is that there's no test to assess whether you are under the effect of drugs while driving. What this reform will do is that it will speed up the process to proceed with the implementation of the test," the justice minister said.

Opponents of the marijuana bill are also critical of the reduced penalties which young offenders will face. On Tuesday, Canadian Alliance Leader Stephen Harper likened that aspect of the legislation to offering a discount on cigarettes to people with student ID cards.

Cauchon said young people currently get away with only a verbal warning for the most part, while the new laws will send out a stronger message.

"We want to send out a message in giving the fine but we want to make sure they are going to be able to pay," he said.

"When you look at the justice system, we've always dealt with young offenders differently," he added.

Marijuana advocates say the proposed bill doesn't go far enough.

"We think it's absurd that there should be any limits placed on growing or selling or possessing marijuana," said Marc Emery, president of the BC Marijuana Party. "It's a real chasm in this country between the straight people who doesn't smoke pot always dictating to the people who do smoke pot."

Emery said the new bill, which includes tougher maximum penalties for marijuana traffickers and growers are "dangerous."

"(It's) a very dangerous thing in a producer province like British Columbia where we have 200,000 people involved every day in growing marijuana," he said, adding that the pot industry reaps $6 billion in revenue annually in B.C.

Emery said if the proposed trafficking laws -- with their 14 year maximum sentences -- are enforced, people could, in theory, be prosecuted for just passing around a joint. "Distribution includes all sorts of things, not just selling," he said.

"Terrorism that kills people is only 10 years and manslaughter and a variety of violent offences are much less than 10 years."

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