Source: National Post (Canada)
Author: Tom Blackwell, National Post
Published: November 10, 2004
Copyright: 2004 National Post
Contact [email protected]
Decriminalization will further snarl border, U.S. envoy warns.
Toronto -- The American ambassador to Canada warned yesterday that Ottawa's plan to de-criminalize marijuana would exacerbate already dire congestion problems at the U.S. border.
Paul Cellucci said the bill would give the impression pot was easier to obtain in Canada, which would put U.S. Customs officers on high alert for smugglers.
The increased inspection and questioning of certain people coming into the United States would slow up crossing points already bogged down with security-related screening, he said during a meeting with the National Post's editorial board.
"Why, when we're trying to take pressure off the border, would Canada pass a law that would put pressure on the border?" he asked.
"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."
Mr. Cellucci earlier noted that roads and other infrastructure around the busy crossings at Windsor and Niagara Falls must be upgraded to ensure the smooth flow of traffic. Current projections would call for such work to be completed by 2013. "We'll be at gridlock long before then," he said.
More than $1.2-billion in trade crosses the Canada-U.S. border every day, the largest bilateral trade flow in the world. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce said in a recent study that border delays are costing the Canadian and U.S. economies $13.6-billion a year.
The ambassador otherwise painted a generally positive picture of relations between the two countries. Differences over such social issues as same-sex marriage, and the hope of many Canadians that George W. Bush, the U.S. President, would lose last week's election will not undermine the solid ties, he said.
"Canada is a little more liberal than the United States. The United States is a little more conservative," he said. "We shouldn't be surprised that a majority of Canadians supported the liberal, as opposed to the conservative."
Irwin Cotler, the Minister of Justice, reintroduced legislation last week that would make it possible to prosecute the minor possession of marijuana as a non-criminal offence, while at the same time stiffening punishment for running grow operations.
Federal officials noted New York, California and at least eight other states have already decriminalized simple marijuana possession, a fact acknowledged by Mr. Cellucci.
"We're following the lead of some of the American states," said Marlene Jennings, the Liberals' parliamentary secretary on Canada-U.S. relations. "Law enforcement is very supportive of this.... They have taken the position that a lot of resources are spent on charging and prosecuting people in possession of small amounts, when those resources would be better used going after grow ops or going after dealers."
The Canadian law had been discussed in detail with John Ashcroft, the U.S. Attorney-General, before he announced his resignation yesterday, and Tom Ridge, the chief of homeland security, said Mylene Dupere, a spokeswoman for Mr. Cotler.
"Both expressed a full understanding of the law," Ms. Dupere said.
Meanwhile, Canada is as committed as the United States to improving traffic flow across the border, she added.
Alex Swann, a spokesman for Anne McLellan, the Minister of Public Safety, questioned the suggestion that the law could put more drugs on the street, noting the government is going to crack down harder on grow ops, and possession will still be illegal.
A recent assessment of cross-border drug movement estimated that only 2% of marijuana heading into the United States was Canadian-grown, he added.
Mr. Cellucci also said the U.S. will ask its allies for help in the reconstruction of Iraq. But, noting that Canada has already contributed and provided RCMP officers to train Iraqi police officers, he said the focus will be on getting more support from countries such as France and Germany.
He also said universal health insurance is "quite a good thing," but added Canada could learn some lessons from the U.S. about reducing wait times.
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