The federal government is considering fining small-time marijuana users as
little as $100 under decriminalization legislation that is expected to be
introduced Thursday.

Sources say the amount, equivalent to a low-level speeding ticket, was still
under discussion yesterday as Justice Department officials scrambled to put the
finishing touches on their bill. The fine would be handed to people caught with
less than 15 grams of marijuana.

People caught with more than 15 grams would still be subject to a criminal
record that carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Small-time users would be governed by the non-criminal Contraventions Act, a
little-used act that controls such things as driving on federal wharves and
abandoning vessels in a public harbour.

The anticipated penalty for marijuana possession would fall short of the
maximum fine under the act of $500.

The amount of marijuana to be decriminalized is only half the amount
by a special House of Commons committee on illicit drugs.

The Commons committee had proposed criminal sanctions be lifted for less
than 30
grams. The Justice Department had indicated it would accept the recommendation,
but suddenly retreated in recent weeks.

A particular concern is the growing prevalence of B.C. bud, a potent strain of
marijuana that put Canada for the first time this year on a White House list of
countries of concern in the war on drugs.

The United States has been pressing Canada to abandon its decriminalization
plan, warning that it would lead to delays at the border.

The watered-down bill will include stiffer penalties for drug traffickers and
people caught with marijuana grow operations.

To underline the point, Justice Minister Martin Cauchon will present his
plan to
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft today.

Mr. Cauchon is expected to stress that marijuana will remain illegal and Canada
will toughen penalties substantially for marijuana-growing operations. He
already described the plan briefly to Mr. Ashcroft last week at a Paris meeting
of justice ministers of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations, but
today's meeting will give a fuller explanation. The legislation will be
accompanied by a renewed national drug strategy, that will put millions of
dollars into drug prevention, education, and treatment.

Mr. Cauchon said in the Commons yesterday the government has no intention of
legalizing marijuana.

Solicitor General Wayne Easter said the message Canada is trying to send to
Americans -- and Canadians -- is drugs are dangerous and people caught with
anything but small amounts of marijuana will be treated harshly.

"There is some work to be done here, no doubt about that, but we will be coming
out with a package that we believe the Americans will certainly understand
we're at as well as Canadians," Mr. Easter said yesterday.

"I think the key is there is certainly a lot of concern about marijuana grow
operations, about people trafficking, about people being penalized with small
amounts and having a criminal record that affects them for so much of their

Randy White, a Canadian Alliance MP and vocal critic of the federal drug
opposes decriminalization.

He said he believes the government's plan will fail because judges will be
reluctant to hand criminal records to people caught with 16 grams and minor
fines to those possessing 14 grams.

Mr. White said the government's fines should increase with the offence, so that
people caught for the second and third times would be given heftier tickets
first-time offenders.

Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Address: P.O. Box 5020, 1101 Baxter Rd., Ottawa, ON K2C 3M4
Fax: (613) 596-8522
Copyright: 2003 The Ottawa Citizen
Pubdate: May 13, 2003
Author: Janice Tibbetts