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Pot Limits For Possession May Be Cut By One-third

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OTTAWA -- The federal government is seriously considering changing its
controversial legislation to decriminalize marijuana possession by reducing
the amount that would result in criminal charges to 10 grams from 15 grams.

A government source said yesterday that Ottawa, under pressure from the
provinces and territories to change the legislation, is amenable to reducing
the amount as the Cannabis Reform Bill comes before the House of Commons for
debate for the first time today.

The original bill, tabled in May, called for decriminalizing the possession
of 15 grams or less of marijuana, while allowing for fines of $100 for
people under 18 caught with that amount, and $150 for adults.

But there has been concern expressed about how much marijuana should be
considered as possession for personal use, leading officials to contemplate
reducing the amount specified in the bill by one-third.

The government is also contemplating other changes to toughen the bill, such
as adding penalties for repeat offenders and mandatory jail sentences for
growers.

The bill is to be sent today to a special parliamentary committee, one that
issued a report on illicit drugs earlier this year, before it comes back for
a second reading in the House.

Asked yesterday if the government is considering amending the bill, Justice
Minister Martin Cauchon said: "We'll see what the committee will say."

Possession of marijuana now carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail
and a fine of up to $1,000.

The government's bill to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana has
brought criticism from the U.S. government and has led to threats that such
a policy could lead to a tightening of the world's longest undefended
border.

But the Liberal government wants to push ahead with its plans before the end
of the year.

"Cannabis reform is an important reform," Mr. Cauchon said. "And we believe
that in proceeding, the special committee, they already have the experience
and that way we might be able to proceed with [the bill] faster."

House Leader Don Boudria said the bill will be referred to the committee
today and could be voted on before the end of the session.

"The bill at this time, it is certainly possible to have it done . . .
before Christmas," he said. "It's up to the committee."

The special parliamentary committee on the use of non-medical drugs went
even further than the government in its report, recommending
decriminalization for the possession and cultivation of up to 30 grams of
cannabis for personal use.

"The committee knows exactly what we're talking about," Mr. Cauchon said.

"To refer it back to that committee to me is just normal."

Under the bill, possession of one gram or less of cannabis resin, the more
powerful hashish or hashish oil, would result in fines of $200 for youths
and $300 for adults.

Aggravating factors, such as possession while driving, or while committing
an indictable offence, or possession in or near schools, would result in
fines of $400 for adults and $250 for youths.

Proponents of change in drug laws say that nearly one-third of Canadians
have admitted using marijuana, and argue that it makes sense to redirect
policing resources to the investigation and prosecution of more serious
crimes.

Last year, a Senate report called on Ottawa to legalize and regulate the
distribution of marijuana.

Canadian Alliance MP Kevin Sorenson accused the government of trying to
water down the bill to get it passed before Prime Minister Jean Chretien
retires.

Most Canadian Alliance MPs support decriminalizing marijuana possession in
amounts of five grams or less.

The New Democratic Party is calling for the legalization of marijuana.

"Anything that backs away from decriminalization, we'd be concerned about
that," NDP Leader Jack Layton said.


Pubdate: Thu, 09 Oct 2003
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2003, The Globe and Mail Company
Contact: letters@globeandmail.ca
Website: The Globe and Mail: Canadian, World, Politics and Business News & Analysis