Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Canada to decriminalise pot

Despite American warnings, and home-grown conservative opposition, later this morning Canada will introduce legislation to decriminalise marijuana possession - something that has been in the works on-and-off since the controversial (and much wider-reaching) LeDain Commission Report in 1972. The debate over decriminalisation/legalisation has been long and interesting.

Canadian Justice Minister Martin Cauchon said yesterday he "has no plans to back down from the legislation, which he says is necessary to prevent hundreds of thousands of Canadians from clogging up the courts and obtaining criminal records for smoking small amounts of marijuana. 'We expect a good policy for Canadians," he said. "We'll send a message in terms of the question of law enforcement ... and stress that use of marijuana is illegal and harmful to society." The federal government plans to spend up to $240-million to convince Canadians that pot smoking is harmful and remind people that decriminalisation is not the same as legalisation.

The skinny:

"The act would make possession of less than 15 grams of marijuana (the equivalent of about 20 joints) a non-criminal offence punishable by a fine of $150 for adults. Minors, however, would be charged only $100, although police would notify their parents of the offence. If the offender possesses between 15 and 30 grams, the police officer would decide whether to issue a ticket or lay a criminal charge. Possession of more than 30 grams would be a criminal offence.

Police could levy a higher fine if there are "aggravating factors," sources say. For example, driving a car while possessing or smoking marijuana could increase the fine to $400. However, the act would still not be criminal, although police could charge the person with driving while impaired, if there was sufficient evidence. Similarly, although it would not be a crime, for example, to smoke pot on the steps of Parliament or in a playground, police could increase the fine depending on the perceived inappropriateness of the act.

Customs officers would have considerable latitude when confronted with someone bringing small amounts of marijuana into Canada. They could simply seize the pot or refuse entry. In cases of trafficking, they could extradite the offender. If the offender crosses the border from the United States, Canada Customs will notify U.S. officials.

While decriminalizing simple possession, the legislation envisions much tougher penalties for those who grow marijuana commercially. There will be four new categories of offences for cultivation. The larger the operation, the greater the penalty, although information about that aspect of the legislation was not available."

More later ...

(Update) Well, the law still needs to be passed but I will give my first thoughts. I am *not* in favour of decriminalisation; I support the legalisation of marijuana. I'd prefer it were grown here, regulated for quality, and taxed like alcohol and cigarettes. I'd prefer to eliminate the demand for third-world suppliers, and I'd prefer to cripple, rather than support, violent drug cartels. I'd prefer less government and cultural hypocrisy on the matter. And I'd prefer we spend our money on better things than the "War on Drugs". If we decriminalise pot, none of this will happen. And so that's my two cents worth - think of me what you will.

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