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More MS news articles for December 2002

Ontario cold to federal musings on decriminalizing marijuana

Dec. 10, 2002
Colin Perkel
Canadian Press

Federal Justice Department plans to decriminalize the use of marijuana were met with a decidedly frosty response from Ontario and other provincial governments Tuesday. "I'm flabbergasted that the federal government has prioritized the decriminalization of marijuana at this time," said provincial Attorney General David Young.

"It is not a priority for this government."

On Monday, federal Justice Minister Martin Cauchon said Ottawa wanted to move quickly on the issue and could bring in legislation early in the new year to decriminalize pot use.

Police chiefs across the country have also advocated for decriminalization but Young, who admitted to "one youthful indiscretion" when it comes to pot, said officers on the beat aren't in favour.

"I stand with organized, front-line police officers across this country who say that this is a serious problem, who say that revenues from marijuana go to organized crime to finance other criminal endeavours."

Ottawa should be spending its energies on ending "the weak-kneed" young-offender legislation and scrapping mandatory parole laws that see criminals leave jail after two-thirds of their sentences, he said.

Young also noted that justice ministers across the country - especially in British Columbia - have expressed concerns about the increased sale of pot and the proliferation of illegal grow houses to produce it.

Saskatchewan Justice Minister Chris Axworthy said he doubted people would applaud the initiative but said his government would poll the province's residents to see if there was any support.

"It certainly appears to be the trend in other countries," Axworthy said.

But Ontario Health Minister Tony Clement jokingly suggested those on Parliament Hill behind the move might be getting surreptitiously stoned.

"We'll check where that stash of medical marijuana went," Clement quipped.

"As health minister, I'm against people polluting their bodies in whatever form that takes."

Any bill would depend in part on a Commons committee that studied the use of non-medical drugs.

The committee apparently plans to recommend on Thursday that possession of pot should remain illegal but punishment should become a fine rather than a criminal record.

In an initial report, the committee said this week that heroin addicts in major cities should have safe-injection sites and needle-exchange programs to help stop the spread of disease.

"The term is an oxymoron," said Clement, who said treatment, rehab and education is what's wanted.

"I just can't believe the federal government wants to be on the side of having heroin addicts attracted to a metropolis like Toronto so they can shoot 'safely.' "

IV drug use is "bad for your body, it's bad for the individual, it's bad for society," Clement said.

Manitoba Attorney General Gord Mackintosh said provincial ministers haven't discussed decriminalization in any depth and he didn't view it as a priority.

Instead, he said, Ottawa should look at the money "that is being wasted on the gun registry . . . and divert resources to the enforcement of an effective drug strategy."

Alberta Justice Minister David Hancock said decriminalizing marijuana would be "feeding organized crime and the criminals who make a profit from it."

"Some people say legalizing it or decriminalizing it will take that away," he said. "We don't see any evidence of that."

In September, a Senate committee said marijuana should be legalized for use by anybody over the age of 16.

The committee found that moderate use of the drug poses no serious long-term dangers for adults and could be sold under controlled circumstances like liquor or in drugstores.

Ontario Premier Ernie Eves, who has admitted to smoking pot in his salad days, suggested the feds were floating a trial balloon but joked it was an "interesting revenue producing measure."

© 2001