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November 11, 2004 - The Vancouver Sun (CN BC)

Martin: We Make Our Own Laws

PM Brushes Aside U.S. Warning About Pot Bill

By Sean Gordon, National Post, with files from Canadian Press

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Paul Martin is brushing aside warnings from U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci that a border crackdown will result if Canada decriminalizes marijuana, saying simply that Canada will pass laws as it sees fit.

Asked what he made of Cellucci's prediction that relaxed marijuana laws in Canada will worsen the perennial congestion at border crossings with the U.S., Martin was unequivocal.

"Firstly, the legislation is before the House of Commons, then the parliamentary committee will have its discussions on all the various points, and we'll wait to see the legislation that comes from that. But Canada will make its own laws, pure and simple," Martin said.

Business groups have raised the alarm over the possible tie-ups resulting from more liberal marijuana laws in Canada, saying that even the current border morass costs Canadian businesses billions of dollars annually. It's estimated that $1.2 billion in goods and services travel across the border each day.

The opposition Conservatives, who insist the draft legislation is deeply flawed, renewed calls to shelve the bill until trade disputes with the Bush administration over beef and softwood lumber exports end.

"Why are we bringing it forward at a time when we have so many trade disputes with the United States? . . . I want assurances from the Americans that they're comfortable with [Canada's position]. We have not got that, they're telling us it's going to impact on our trade, and if it's going to impact on our trade, let's bury this bill," said Tory justice critic Vic Toews.

The draft legislation calls for fines of $150 for adults -- and $100 for minors -- who are caught in possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana. The bill also proposes tougher sentences for those who produce the drug as part of a wider effort to stamp out growing operations. Companion legislation is also aimed at curbing so-called "drug-drivers."

>From quantity limits to enforcement and training, police across Canada have major concerns, says the head of the Canadian Professional Police Association.

"It's putting the cart before the horse," said president Tony Cannavino, representing 54,000 officers and members.

"The government should have started first of all with a national drug strategy instead of going forward with a bill decriminalizing marijuana," he said Wednesday in an interview. "It's sending the wrong message to kids."

The association does not believe anyone caught with one or two joints should get a criminal record, Cannavino stressed. "We think it's exaggerated."

Police also want to see automatic minimum sentences of five to seven years for big-time growers, Cannavino says.

Instead, the bill proposes a maximum sentence of 10 years for anyone caught with more than 25 plants -- not much of a deterrent, he said.

"We know judges won't give those maximum sentences. It's not a way to convince those marijuana growers that they should stop doing their business.

"This legislation has so many flaws that it won't help us to win the war against marijuana grow [operations]."

A similar proposal to ease marijuana laws died on the order paper when Parliament wrapped up prior to last summer's federal election.

On Tuesday, Cellucci told the National Post's editorial board he was perplexed by the timing of the new pot bill.

"Why, when we're trying to take pressure off the border, would Canada pass a law that would put pressure on the border?," he said. "If people think it's easier to get marijuana in Canada, then our people at the border are going to be on the lookout, and I think they will stop more vehicles, particularly vehicles driven by young people, whether they're citizens of Canada or the United States."

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