Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer (WA)
Author: Joel Connelly, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Published: Monday, May 26, 2003
Copyright: 2003 Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Contact: [email protected]
As Parliament reconvenes today, Canada's government is set to introduce legislation that would remove criminal penalties and substitute a simple ticket for those possessing small amounts of marijuana.
The decriminalization bill is causing controversy -- in the United States.
John Walters, the Bush administration's drug czar, has taken repeated pot shots at Canada's "out of control" drug policy.
Up in the Great White North, however, polls show 70 percent of Canadians favor the pending reform.
Why? Part of it is recognition that criminal penalties don't stop people from getting high. They just give them criminal records, and give politicians embarrassing questions to answer later in life.
Advocates of Canada's proposed reform cite statistics on how the United States, with 5 percent of the world's population, now has 25 percent of the globe's prison inmates. Almost 500,000 people in the States are locked up for drug violations.
As well, particularly in western Canada, social choices -- such as smoking marijuana -- seem to be recognized as a matter of personal autonomy. The result is that the United States and Canada are of late moving in different legal directions.
Canada's House of Commons is likely to approve marijuana decriminalization, which is championed by Prime Minister Jean Chretien and his Cabinet. Asked if he ever lighted up, Justice Minister Martin Cauchon told parliamentary reporters: "Yes, of course."
A few years back, however, Chretien's government pushed through one of the world's most stringent (and costly to implement) laws covering gun registration and ownership.
The U.S. House of Representatives has blocked implementation of a medical- marijuana initiative approved by voters of the District of Columbia. It is considering legislation to stop federal anti-drug money from going to states that pass medical-marijuana laws.
At the same time, the House rushed passage of legislation that would exempt gun manufacturers from civil lawsuits brought by victims of firearms violence. It is likely to let expire a 1994 law that banned manufacture or sale of two dozen types of assault rifles.
The laid-back attitude toward marijuana smoking in Vancouver, B.C., has frequently been shown to Seattle TV viewers.
Especially during sweeps months, U.S.- based television crews regularly sniffed out the Cannabis Cafe, where drug parapher- nalia was sold and marijuana openly smoked and ingested in brownies. Embar- rassed city officials eventually shut it down.
Whistler-based Ross Rebagliati won the Winter Olympics' first snowboarding gold medal at Nagano in 1998.
He gained greater fame a few days later when Olympic officials found traces of marijuana, and took away the medal.
It was reinstated, however, when it turned out that grass was not on the Olympics' list of banned drugs.
Rebagliati returned in triumph to Whistler, where supporters passed around what was billed as the world's largest joint.
The Canadian government already runs a marijuana farm in Manitoba, growing cannabis for clinical trials on pain relief among neuropathy and AIDS patients.
About 200 Canadian citizens are authorized to grow and smoke pot to relieve pain from cancer, multiple sclerosis and severe arthritis.
In details leaked to The (Toronto) Globe and Mail, the government's legislation would have three major thrusts:
* Police would write a ticket, rather than criminal citation, for possession of up to 15 grams (roughly 20 joints) of cannabis. Adults would pay a $150 (Canadian) fine, minors a fine of $100.
* Between 15 and 30 grams, police would have discretion whether to write a ticket or file criminal charges. Also, fines would increase when there were "aggravating factors."
* Much tougher penalties would be imposed on commercial growers, such as those producing potent "B.C. bud" for export to the United States. Four new categories of offense, rising in severity, would be created for cultivation.
The government plans to be ready with an education and information program to discourage increased pot smoking.
Walters, however, is aghast -- and not the least impressed at the criminal charges for cultivation. "Stepping up penalties that are not enforced is not going to solve the problem," he told one interviewer.
History may not be on his side.
Earlier this month, Belgium became the latest European country to decriminalize marijuana possession.
Eight U.S. states (including Washington, Oregon and California) have passed medical-marijuana initiatives.
Last week, in Maryland, conservative Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich defied Walters' counsel and signed a marijuana reform bill.
It dramatically reduces penalties for cancer patients and others who smoke cannabis to relieve pain and suffering.
It imposes a mere $100 fine for those caught possessing marijuana out of "medical necessity."
Even the audience of bellicose conservative Fox pundit Bill O'Reilly -- who calls Canada's leaders "pinheads" -- seems to be turning.
In a poll that drew 40,000 responses, O'Reilly's viewers voted 54 percent to 46 percent in favor of decriminalization.
Sad to say, however, our House of Representatives is run by a man -- Texas Rep. Tom DeLay -- who chews tobacco and smokes cigars.
Recently, as The Washington Post reported, DeLay and cronies lighted up cigars at Ruth's Chris Steak House in D.C., which is in a building owned by the Smithsonian and falls under a federal smoking ban.
A manager politely cited government policy and asked DeLay to snuff out his stogie.
"I AM the federal government," DeLay bellowed at him, and then stormed out.
Were he to smoke a joint, DeLay might be better able to control his anger.
P-I columnist Joel Connelly can be reached at 206-448-8160 or [email protected]
Related Articles & Web Site:
Cannabis News Canadian Links
Sense And Folly In The Drug War
Cauchon To Table Controversial Pot Bill Tuesday
The U.S. is Addicted To War on Drugs
Don't Bully Canada, U.S. Told