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Day Warns of U.S. Backlash on Marijuana



Source: National Post (Canada)
Author: Robert Fife, Ottawa Bureau Chief 
Published: Monday, December 16, 2002
Copyright: 2002 Southam Inc.
Contact: [email protected]
Website: http://www.nationalpost.com/ 

Decriminalization will cause border delays, hurt economy, Alliance critic says: Tighter border security.

Canada's softening stance on marijuana and hard drugs will provoke a backlash in the U.S. Congress that would lead to harsher border measures on Canadian travellers and cause serious economic consequences for the economy, warns Stockwell Day, the Canadian Alliance foreign affairs critic.

Mr. Day told the National Post the Alliance supports making simple possession of five grams of marijuana a summary-conviction offence, with a far less serious punishment.

But he believes the Liberal government's plan to decriminalize possession and cultivation of less than 30 grams is going too far.

Mr. Day said decriminalization of even 30 grams -- which equals about 50 joints -- amounts to legalizing use and trafficking of the drug.

If the Liberal government proceeds with decriminalization, Mr. Day said it will result in U.S. border harassment of Canadian travellers and delays in the flow of the 85% of Canadian exports sent to the United States, worth US$1.5-billion a day.

"The Liberal approach to changing the definition of possession is going to create problems related to the border issues," Mr. Day said.

Mr. Day said the move to decriminalize marijuana coupled with the new Vancouver Mayor's decision to open drug injection clinics for heroin addicts will lead to tougher border inspections that will clog up exports and the flow of Canadians into the United States.

"The overall approach of softening our stance on drug use in Canada is alarming our American allies. We should be in discussion with them. I'm sure they are also concerned about the trend to legalized drug rooms or injection sites which are going to increasingly lead to a softening on our approach to hard drugs also."

U.S. drug czar John Walters and Paul Cellucci, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, have already warned that loosening the drug laws in Canada will trigger tighter border security.

However, the Liberal government has ignored U.S. concerns with Wayne Easter, the Solicitor-General, saying Canada is free to make its own laws. The subject will likely be raised this week when Mr. Easter meets U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft in Washington.

Martin Cauchon, the Justice Minister, has said he wants to rescind the law against marijuana possession, saying a lifelong criminal record is too great a penalty since it leaves young people unable to travel to the U.S. or to take up certain jobs.

He wants anyone caught with possession of less than 30 grams to be given a fine akin to a parking ticket rather than be saddled with a criminal record.

The U.S. ambassador told Global Sunday yesterday that border security will become a major irritant if the Liberal government's proceeds with the decriminalization of of marijuana, warning it could lead to clogged borders that could seriously harm the Canadian economy.

"The fact is that already there is quite a bit marijuana drugs coming into the United States from Canada. We don't think that is a good thing," he said.

"What we want to do is reduce this drug trade. We think decriminalizing would be a step that might make it more difficult to halt this flow .... Something like this could have the effect of putting more pressure on the border."

Mr. Walters said last week the United States is already alarmed that 95 % of the marijuana grown in British Columbia is sent south of the border. The growers are largely Vietnamese organized crime groups who have moved into Ontario and Quebec to supply the U.S. market with high-potency and high-quality marijuana, he said.

Canadian police have joined the U.S. drug control czar in warning that easing the penalties is a step in the wrong direction.

In the New Year, Mr. Cauchon plans to remove marijuana possession from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, where penalties include a criminal record, into the federal Contraventions Act, which governs such things as driving on federal wharves and abandoning vessels in a public harbour.

People caught with marijuana under 30 grams would get a ticket. The current maximum amount under the Contraventions Act is $500, but there is no indication what the fine would be marijuana possession.

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