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B.C. Court Loosens The Law On Pot


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Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer (WA)
Author: Mike Lewis, Seattle P-I Reporter
Published: Wednesday, September 17, 2003
Copyright: 2003 Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Contact: [email protected]

Not yet officially legal, marijuana in Canada marched closer to that status yesterday when the British Columbia provincial court decriminalized the popular drug.

The decision likely means that possession of a personal use amount of weed -- under an ounce -- could result in a fine but not criminal punishment. However, the ruling doesn't make the sale of pot legal.

For Stewart McKay, 38, general manager of the New Amsterdam Cafe in downtown Vancouver, B.C., the court decision likely means more American customers than ever. Already, he said, 75 percent of the people who walk into his shop to munch pastries, sip coffee and smoke dope are from south of the border

"Now people will be even less worried," McKay said. "I think it's a good thing."

The provincial court ruling stems from a decision on medical marijuana in an Ontario high court. In it, the country's pot-possession laws were ruled unconstitutional because they conflicted with medical-marijuana laws.

Seattle City Attorney Tom Carr, who is a vocal opponent of a measure on yesterday's ballot to make enforcing pot laws the lowest priority for Seattle police, said he doesn't see how the Canadian decision affects anything in Seattle or Washington -- other than some individual travel plans.

"It makes it easier to get up there," he said, adding that it won't soften U.S. resolve to keep pot illegal.

U.S. drug czar John Walters, who toured the New Amsterdam on an official trip to Vancouver earlier this year, has blasted city and provincial leaders who seek to relax drug laws there. The U.S. consul-general in Vancouver said the ruling could mean longer waits at the southbound border as more cars are searched. But Vancouver's top vice officer, Kash Heed, has called for legalization of personal-use amounts of certain drugs.

Monday, Vancouver officials opened up North America's first safe-injection house, in an effort to reduce drug overdoses and the spread of HIV and hepatitis by drug addicts who use needles.

McKay said what he sees is the province's largest city become more and more like the European city that is his cafe's namesake. "We seem to be on the brink of becoming Amsterdam," he said. "More liberal and more open-minded."

Yet, McKay has his limits. Although he expects that pot smokers no longer will need to confine themselves to his cafe's back room, he knows whom he will put in there.

"Cigarette smokers," he said. "Tobacco should be kept away from the general public."

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