U.S. Warns Pot Plan To Clog Border
Source: National Post (Canada)
Author: Bill Curry
Published: Friday, December 13, 2002
Copyright: 2002 Southam Inc.
Contact: [email protected]
Drug czar accuses Liberals of naive 'Cheech and Chong' notion of dangers of marijuana.
U.S. drug czar John Walters warned yesterday that Canadians could face problems at the border if Ottawa proceeds with the decriminalization of marijuana.
Mr. Walters travelled to the Canada-U.S. border at Buffalo to deliver his message on the same day a Commons committee called for the possession and cultivation of less than 30 grams of marijuana to be decriminalized.
Mr. Walters, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said RCMP officials recently told him that 95% of all marijuana grown in Vancouver is sent to the United States.
"The RCMP informed me that many of the organizations, some of them ethnically based, Vietnamese organizations and others, that are doing the grows in British Columbia are now moving groups across Canada to Ontario and Quebec to begin to supply larger parts of the United States," he said.
"It's bad for people in Canada and the consumption and dependence problems it creates, but also, their estimates are the bulk of that marijuana is headed for the United States and it's large quantity, high-potency and it builds on the threat that we now believe we have underestimated and we're trying to address.
"It makes security at the border tougher because this is a dangerous threat to our young people given what we see and it makes the problem of controlling the border more difficult," he said.
Mr. Walters dismissed claims marijuana is not addictive or a serious drug, saying the level of psychoactive THC is much higher than it used to be. "That's archaic views of what marijuana was, left over from the Cheech and Chong years of the '70s," he said, cautioning against "reefer-madness madness."
Even as Mr. Walters was warning of trouble at the border, news emerged of co-operation on security issues. Global National reported last night that the two countries are close to signing an agreement that would enable police in each country to instantly access criminal records of the other country's citizens using cutting-edge fingerprint-scanning technology.
In Ottawa, Wayne Easter, the Solicitor-General, responded to Mr. Walters' speech by stating that Canada is free to make its own laws.
Mr. Easter said he will raise the issue when he meets with John Ashcroft, the U.S. Attorney-General, next week.
"Mr. Walters is entitled to his opinion. We make our laws in this country based on the decisions and the debates in the House of Commons. Laws change as time goes on," Mr. Easter said.
On the fingerprint front, the Global National report cited senior government officials in Ottawa and Washington who confirmed that Mr. Easter would discuss fingerprint sharing with Mr. Ashcroft during a meeting of the countries' top lawmakers in Washington on Tuesday. The report said a deal to swap criminal records could be signed at that time.
The "live-scan" technology allows law enforcement officers to obtain fingerprints via an electronic scanner. The information can then be instantly cross-referenced against criminal-records databases.
The technology is in use at a number of U.S. border crossings, but the new agreement would give officials the option of effectively merging the two countries' criminal databases, allowing law-enforcement officers to access records in either country. "It really is just going to check against whatever database the two countries decide to check against, it will pop up on the screen," said Linda Howard of Identix Inc., a U.S.-based maker of identification-scanning systems. "You do it on a computer and it is in a digital mode."
Canadian and U.S. police forces already share criminal-record information, but the exchange of data occurs only after requests have been filed with the appropriate authorities -- a process that usually takes a number of days.
The initiative is the latest effort to integrate security forces between the neighbouring countries amid global terrorism fears. Washington is moving ahead with plans for its National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, a program that will require travellers to the United States to register at the border.
The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service is required to establish the entry/exit system by the end of next year at all airports and seaports. The 50 largest land points of entry are to be included a year later and by 2005, the system is supposed to cover all 162 official land crossings.
The project came under fire when it was announced that certain visitors -- those born in select Middle East countries -- would be fingerprinted and photographed at the border, even those with Canadian citizenship. Officials in Washington backed down from that requirement, but said the program will proceed on schedule.
The countries developed a 30-point action plan following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks intended to ensure continued freedom of travel and transport while enhancing security. That plan included provisions ranging from issuing permanent resident cards to all new immigrants to Canada and enhancing visa policy co-ordination between the two countries to speeding commercial shipments and sharing information on terrorist assets.
Yesterday's report from the Commons committee on non-medical use of drugs says cannabis should continue to be illegal, but possession of less than 30 grams should be punished with fines instead of criminal charges.
Paddy Torsney, the Ontario Liberal MP who chaired the committee, said they also call for decriminalization of small levels of cultivation to reduce users' dependence on organized crime.
"We would prefer you have your one plant if you're a Saturday night smoker."
Meanwhile, Supreme Court of Canada judges have written a letter questioning whether they should proceed with a federal case against pot smoking today, given that Martin Cauchon, the Justice Minister, says he plans to decriminalize marijuana. Three pot smokers, two from B.C. and one from Ontario, are challenging the government on constitutional grounds.
Bill Curry, with files from Carl Hanlon, Global National
National Post, with files from Global National
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