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Pot Panel Invites American Drug Czar

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OTTAWA -- A parliamentary committee examining Canada's proposed law to
decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana is inviting one
of the bill's chief critics -- U.S. drug czar John Walters -- to
testify at its hearings.

The special, all-party committee has decided to invite Mr. Walters and
several other U.S. witnesses, committee chair Paddy Torsney said yesterday.

The invitation comes after some debate among committee members over
whether Americans should be called to testify at the hearings, which
resume Monday.

"We are open to listening to anybody give good advice to us," Ms.
Torsney said. Canadian Alliance MP Randy White, the vice-chair of the
committee, welcomed the addition of Mr. Walters yesterday along with
other U.S. officials from the Drug Enforcement Agency and border
authorities.

"This is an international issue," Mr. White said. "It's not just a
Canadian issue. It's not about Americans making our policy. It's about
the implications of the legislation."

Mr. Walters, who is director of the White House Office of National
Drug Control Policy, has been an outspoken critic of the federal
government's marijuana-reform bill. He has said any moves to
liberalize marijuana laws in Canada could result in longer waits and
tougher scrutiny for travellers at the border.

He also criticized Prime Minister Jean Chretien for jokingly
suggesting that he might try marijuana when he retires.

Not all committee members want to hear from Mr. Walters.

"I personally don't think we need to hear from him," New Democrat MP
Libby Davies said. "I think it's just a political line that we've all
heard before [about the U.S. war on drugs]."

It is uncertain whether Mr. Walters will take the committee up on its
offer. His office did not return phone calls yesterday.

Justice Minister Martin Cauchon has said he wants to pass the bill by
year's end. But the committee still has to hear from numerous
witnesses, including police, lawyers, addictions experts and
provincial solicitors-general.

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

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

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 has been sent to a special parliamentary committee before it
comes back for a second reading.


Pubdate: Fri, 31 Oct 2003
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Page A9
Copyright: 2003, The Globe and Mail Company
Contact: letters@globeandmail.ca
Website: The Globe and Mail: Canadian, World, Politics and Business News & Analysis