Marijuana law to be loosened
Justice Minister prepares to decriminalize; Alliance expects legal limit of 40-plus joints

Bill Curry
National Post, with files from Southam News and The Canadian Press
Tuesday, December 10, 2002

OTTAWA - The federal government will introduce legislation decriminalizing marijuana within the first four months of the new year, Martin Cauchon, the Justice Minister, suggested yesterday.

Mr. Cauchon said that should the House of Commons committee on illegal drugs recommend decriminalization in its report this Thursday, the government will respond quickly.

The committee is expected to recommend that growing pot for personal use should not be a crime. A member of the committee said the report will probably suggest a 30-gram limit for personal use.

" I mean, we'll see what will be the recommendations of the report," Mr. Cauchon told reporters. "Of course, we will have to analyze all of the recommendations and if we're talking about that question of decriminalizing marijuana, we may move ahead quickly as a government. I don't like to give you a date or a time frame, but quickly, I mean, let's say, beginning of next year. Give me the four first months of next year."

The Minister also discussed his personal views on decriminalization. "You know, I don't think I've ever really hid my position. I believe that most Canadians know where I stand," he said. "So I'm looking forward to the report and I'm looking forward to seeing the recommendations regarding decriminalization."
In July, Mr. Cauchon said the system in Canada, in which police in some provinces lay charges while others do not, might not be working as it should.

" If you look at the system that we have in place, keeping it criminal, it's not very efficient," he said then. "Depending where you are across Canada, they apply or they don't apply the legislation that we have."
Mr. Cauchon, one of the youngest members of the federal Cabinet, has also admitted he has smoked pot.

" I'm 39 years old," he told reporters in July. "Yes, of course I tried it before, obviously. My own experience can't tell you if it's harmful or not."
Yesterday, Mr. Cauchon praised the work of the committee, saying it did a good job analyzing drug laws around the world.

Under the Commons committee's proposal, possession of marijuana would continue to be illegal, but those caught with small amounts would not be charged with a crime. Instead, they would have to pay a fine.

Randy White, a Canadian Alliance MP on the committee, said Mr. Cauchon's comments show the decision has already been made and that the Minister has been "tipped" as to the report's contents.




Mr. White said the Canadian Alliance MPs on the committee will issue a dissenting report on Thursday because they disagree with Liberal MPs as to what constitutes a small amount. He said he supports decriminalizing possession of five grams or less, while the Liberal MPs will likely suggest a cut off of 30 grams.

" Everybody should know that 30 grams equals anywhere from 40 to 60 joints. Now you tell me how you can call that personal possession if you're walking down the street and you've got 40 to 50 joints in your pocket. Give me a break. You're using that and you're going to sell them to kids," he said.

" Martin Cauchon and the rest of his Liberal rag-tag motley crew have already got this in hand. This is a direct affront to our intelligence to suggest that he doesn't already know what's in that report and the majority of Liberals are going to go with what he wants and he's going to go ahead with it. And to think that this is a democracy at play here is laughable," he said.
" If they're going to decriminalize it, then say they're going to decriminalize it. Don't use the committee as an excuse. These guys are just a joke, quite frankly. It's going to be decriminalized and it's going to be decriminalized at 30 grams; that's what they're going to go after."

Mr. White said setting the limit at 30 grams would be a "lawyer's dream" because it would be difficult to differentiate between traffickers and those in possession for personal use.

" They've got to make it five grams, which is, you know, you're caught with a joint or two in your pocket or you're smoking one," he said.

Mr. White said fines should have to be paid on the spot and should increase for repeat offenders. He also said the government should put money toward advertising the negative effects of marijuana and set up a system to catch those driving under the influence of marijuana.

" They will decriminalize. The Americans will not like it," he said.

A Senate committee report issued in September said marijuana should be legalized for use by anybody over the age of 16.

The committee found that moderate use of the drug poses no serious long-term dangers for adults and could be sold under controlled circumstances, like in liquor or drug stores.

Mr. Cauchon has rejected legalization, saying that society still believes the possession of the drug should carry some sort of penalty.

The Canadian Police Association is strongly opposed to taking possession off the criminal record books. Currently, a person caught with small amounts of marijuana can be jailed for up to six months and receive a fine of $1,000.