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Cauchon Vows Quick Action Despite PM's Reluctance



Source: National Post (Canada)
Author: Janice Tibbetts, Southam News 
Published: Thursday, January 09, 2003
Copyright: 2002 Southam Inc.
Contact: [email protected]
Website: http://www.nationalpost.com/ 

Ottawa - Despite the Prime Minister's misgivings, Martin Cauchon, the Justice Minister, says he intends to pursue decriminalization of marijuana by taking a proposal to the federal Cabinet "in the weeks ahead."

Mr. Cauchon heads to Europe today, where he will discuss pot decriminalization with his counterparts in France, England and Germany, which have relaxed their laws or plan to do so.

"I want to move ahead as quickly as I can," Mr. Cauchon said yesterday, when asked whether Jean Chrétien's hesitancy will delay legislation.

Mr. Cauchon, a 40-year-old who has confessed to smoking pot in his youth, acknowledged that he and his boss may have a difference of opinion on whether marijuana possession should be eliminated from the Criminal Code.

But Mr. Cauchon, who has been a Chrétien loyalist through his leadership problems, denied there is a generation gap between he and the Prime Minister, who turns 69 on Saturday and says he did not even know what marijuana was when he was growing up.

Mr. Chrétien's reluctance to modernize laws is in step with a significant portion of Canadian society, Mr. Cauchon said. "He is a guy that understands perfectly our Canadian society. He knows where we are on many, many issues."

A recent poll conducted for Southam News indicated that Canadians are split on whether simple possession should be decriminalized.

Mr. Chrétien, in a television interview with Global TV before Christmas, said the government must debate marijuana decriminalization further and that a decision will have to be made one day.

But Mr. Cauchon says he intends to introduce legislation in the next few months because the issue has been simmering for decades and "it's time to deal with that question."

Skeptics, who say justice ministers have hinted for 30 years that marijuana will be decriminalized, have suggested Mr. Cauchon's plans will never come to fruition before Mr. Chrétien's retirement.

In Europe, Mr. Cauchon will meet with David Blunkett, the British Home Secretary, Dominique Perben, the French Justice Minister, and Germany's Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries.

Mr. Blunkett announced last summer than Britain would relax cannabis laws by July, 2003, making possession of small amounts or smoking pot in private an offence that would not result in arrest.

Only days after Britain's announcement, Mr. Cauchon said he, too, was considering easing Canada's laws so people caught with small amounts would be fined instead of being saddled with a criminal record.

Germany and France also have eased their laws in recent years, according to a report supplied by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.

A House of Commons committee recently recommended that Canadians caught with less than 30 grams -- the equivalent of an ounce in the old Imperial system of measurement -- should be fined rather than criminally charged.


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