Ottawa To Warn of Pot's Dangers
Source: National Post (Canada)
Author: Janice Tibbetts, CanWest News Service
Published: Monday, April 14, 2003
Copyright: 2003 Southam Inc.
Contact: [email protected]
Strategy to focus on education, rehabilitation and enforcement.
Ottawa - The federal government is embarking on an anti-drug campaign to stress that pot is a health hazard, at the same time that the Justice Department decriminalizes marijuana possession.
Legislation to ease marijuana laws, expected late this spring, will be one part of a new multimillion-dollar national drug strategy that will focus on public education, enforcement of drug crimes and revamped treatment and rehabilitation programs.
The drug bill, which will include initiatives from the Justice, Solicitor-General's and Health departments, will be based on a report from a special committee that late last year recommended a sweeping new system for the way the federal government manages Canada's illegal drug problem.
The committee said Ottawa should appoint a drug commissioner, similar to the United States's drug czar, and establish safe injection sites for drug addicts.
"We're looking at all the recommendations that were made, but we can't rule anything in or out at this time," said Alex Swann, a spokesman for Anne McLellan, the Minister of Health, whose department is overseeing the drug strategy.
The new initiative, including marijuana decriminalization, is still in the works.
Martin Cauchon, the Minister of Justice, mindful of U.S. opposition to Canada relaxing its marijuana laws, said it is significant that the overall strategy will stress that pot is still illegal and police will be instructed to be more vigilant in enforcing the law. Possession of small amounts of marijuana will be punishable by a fine instead of a criminal record.
The government's strategy is to spend less time and resources going after small-time users and focus on trafficking and dealing with serious addictions to harmful drugs.
"My primary concern here is to make sure we're going to have an effective policy, sending a strong message that marijuana is illegal in Canada; it can be harmful to your health; it is not good for society as well; and making sure as well that we are going to be stronger in law enforcement," Mr. Cauchon responded when asked whether he was worried about the U.S. position.
Mike Murphy, a spokesman for Mr. Cauchon, said Canada is not backing away from decriminalization plans to satisfy the United States, which has warned Canadians could face problems at the border if laws are eased.
Mr. Murphy said 12 U.S. states have some degree of marijuana decriminalization.
The current national drug strategy has been widely criticized for poor leadership, shoddy research and lack of measurable results.
Sheila Fraser, the federal Auditor-General, in a scathing 2001 report, said Canada is ill-informed on the size of its drug problem because nobody is in charge.
Ms. Fraser found illegal drugs cost the federal government an estimated $5-billion annually in lost productivity, property crime, law enforcement and health care.
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