OTTAWA -- U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci suggested Friday that Canada's
plan to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana may not
lead to border friction if the change includes tough penalties for
criminal trafficking and cultivation.

Contrary to recent warnings by other U.S. officials, including U.S. drug
czar John Walters, Cellucci said people will have to "wait and see"
whether such a law would lead to congestion and other problems at the
Canada-U.S. border.

Cellucci noted several U.S. states have decriminalized the possession of
small amounts of cannabis and said much will depend on whether the drug
will appear easier to get if decriminalized in Canada.

"This is a decision for Canada to make, just as it was a decision for
jurisdictions in the United States to make," Cellucci told reporters at a
ceremony marking a new agreement on pre-clearance procedures for U.S.
customs at airports in Canada.

"We'll have to wait and see what it [the law] is to know whether it will
have any impact on the border," the ambassador added.

A leading U.S. criminologist said in Vancouver Friday decriminalizing
marijuana is unlikely to have serious consequences for Canada, either from
an increase in crime or from a disapproving United States government.

James Q. Wilson shrugged off a warning by a U.S. government official that
Canada and the U.S. were heading for major trouble because Canada is
edging closer to decriminalization.

Wilson, the leading conservative U.S. criminologist, said the marijuana
dispute is between Canada and "some political leaders" in the U.S., not
between the two countries.

He noted that a U.S. warning that decriminalization could lead to trouble
was delivered by a relatively low-level official.

In any case, Wilson told The Vancouver Sun's editorial board, U.S. opinion
is also shifting in the direction of decriminalization.

"We have 12 states which have in effect de-penalized marijuana," he said.
"In the 12 states that have done so, I don't think there has been any
significant increase in crime and disorder.

"There have been no serious consequences. I suspect that if you do it in
Canada, you won't notice any serious consequence either."

Cellucci laughingly brushed off attempts by journalists to draw him into
commenting on the Liberal leadership race.

Asked if he welcomed former finance minister Paul Martin's support for
more defence spending and Canadian participation in a continental missile
defence system, Cellucci replied with a broad smile: "We're not going to
get into the political wars here in Canada, but we thought that was a
positive statement from Mr. Martin, obviously."

He also had praise for John Manley's good working relationship with U.S.
Homeland Secretary Tom Ridge.

Top U.S. officials have predicted border tie-ups if Canada eases laws on
marijuana. Although some U.S. states have made possession a misdemeanour,
it remains a federal offence to transport the drug across the U.S. border.

Cellucci, however, said no one can predict what will happen.

"I think a lot depends, and no one has seen the proposal yet, does it
actually make it more difficult to get marijuana?" he added. "Is the
enforcement of the civil penalty going to be a strong one? Are the
criminal penalties for those who grow marijuana, are they going to be

The ambassador went on to say: "I think it comes down to perception, if
the perception is that it might be more easy to get marijuana here, then
that could lead to some pressure on the border because U.S. customs and
immigration officers are law enforcement officers and they would have
their antennae up as people are travelling from Canada into the United

Criminologist Wilson dismissed U.S. concerns that B.C.-grown marijuana is
seen as a problem south of the border.

"The United States is producing lots of marijuana on private property," he
said. "I doubt we have to depend on imports from Canada."

Later Friday, in a speech to the Fraser Institute, Wilson joked that much
of northern California is devoted to growing marijuana and the U.S.
doesn't need to rely on B.C. bud.

Justice Minister Martin Cauchon, arguing thousands of young Canadians
should not be saddled with criminal records for using small amounts of
marijuana, has promised to introduce a bill by June decriminalizing
possession of 30 grams or less of pot. He has also indicated the
government would launch a new strategy on drugs and toughen enforcement
against growers and traffickers.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other agencies in Washington
have already singled Canada out as a source of marijuana and other drug
shipments to the U.S.

In Canada, judges in three provinces, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Prince
Edward Island have recently tossed out marijuana possession charges
because of Ottawa's plans for a new law. The federal justice department,
which is drafting Cauchon's bill to decriminalize pot, is also appealing
the provincial court rulings.

Source: Vancouver Sun
Author: Tim Naumetz, CanWest News Service
Pubdate: Saturday, May 3, 2003