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Delay Marijuana Reform: Provinces

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Cauchon Pushed To Drop Bill, Address More Pressing Needs

Provincial justice ministers say they will lobby their federal counterpart,
Martin Cauchon, to abandon his controversial bill to decriminalize
marijuana in favour of more pressing justice initiatives that have been in
the works for years.

The provinces will make their unified pitch this week as Mr. Cauchon tries
to convince them to buy into the federal marijuana bill, which he hopes
will pass in Parliament this fall before Prime Minister Jean Chretien retires.

"If you only have so much time, don't use it on decriminalizing marijuana
when there's a lot of other more important, pressing issues to deal with,"
said Alberta Justice Minister Dave Hancock, summing up the sentiment of the
provinces.

Mr. Cauchon has put the item on the agenda when he meets with his
provincial counterparts tomorrow and Wednesday in his home town of La
Malbaie, Que.

Mr. Cauchon is a Chretien loyalist and the prime minister has been a major
backer of the marijuana bill. The provincial justice ministers, however,
will arrive at the meeting with a heavy briefcase of other priorities.

Provincial priorities include a national sex offender registry, modernizing
divorce laws to remove the adversarial concepts of custody and access,
automatic first-degree murder charges in child killings, increased legal
aid funding, streamlining "mega-trials" that are bogging down the justice
system, ending expensive preliminary inquiries and placing more
restrictions on which prisoners are eligible for conditional sentences.

"I think Minister Cauchon should be doing what he can to get those Divorce
Act changes passed this fall," said British Columbia Attorney General Geoff
Plant.

"I raised this with the justice minister and he said from his perspective
the decriminalization initiative is a higher priority and with respect, I
disagree."

Added Manitoba Justice Minister Gord Mackintosh: "Marijuana is just not on
our radar screen."

Mr. Cauchon's spokesman, Mike Murphy, said that although Mr. Cauchon will
listen to the concerns, he intends to move forward with the marijuana bill.

The legislation proposes to decriminalize possession of 15 grams or less,
so that people would be fined from $100 to $400 instead of being criminally
charged.

The bill would also double the maximum jail terms for people caught with
marijuana grow operations.

Police, who oppose the legislation, estimate that 15 grams is the
equivalent of 15 to 30 cigarettes, depending on how they are rolled.

The Liberal government premise is that police should not be spending their
resources pursuing small-time offenders, nor should people caught with
marijuana for their own use be saddled with criminal records.

"The alternative penalties program will be sending the right message about
the use of cannabis and stronger penalties for the grow-ops is certainly
something that the minister is looking to beef up on," said Mr. Murphy.

The outcry against the marijuana legislation is strongest from Canada's
four largest provinces -- Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta --
where justice ministers argue that relaxing possession laws will send
confusing messages to young people and encourage organized crime to grow
and sell even more marijuana.

The provinces, responsible for the administration of justice, have big
stakes in the bill.

New Brunswick Justice Minister Brad Green says that provincial ministers
were not properly consulted on the marijuana bill before Mr. Cauchon
introduced it in Parliament last spring.

"I suspect that, in itself, will be the subject of some discussion at the
meeting," said Mr. Green.

Ontario Attorney General Norm Sterling, who is not attending the meeting
because he will be campaigning for re-election in the Oct. 2 provincial
election, has raised the same complaint. With over $1 billion traded daily
between the U.S. and Canada, Mr. Sterling said Ontario has the most to lose
if the U.S. decides to tighten its border with Canada because of drug concerns.

Mr. Murphy has said that senior bureaucrats, including deputy ministers,
met with their provincial counterparts to discuss the legislation and Mr.
Cauchon called each provincial and territorial justice minister last spring
before tabling the bill.

Paul Martin, the prime minister in waiting, has been lukewarm in his
support for decriminalizing marijuana and it is expected that the bill will
be one of many that will be up for review once Mr. Chretien is out of the
picture.

Mr. Martin has said that he opposes decriminalization except for people
caught with a "very, very small quantity" for personal use, although he has
not elaborated.


Pubdate: Mon, 29 Sep 2003
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Webpage: http://www.mapinc.org/cancom/BAFBCF51-9AE4-478A-A51E-E5953CFE0A55
Copyright: 2003 The Ottawa Citizen
Contact: letters@thecitizen.canwest.com
Website: http://www.canada.com/ottawa/ottawacitizen/