Saturday July 13 4:24 PM EST
By ARPON BASU
Federal Justice Minister Martin Cauchon is simply trying to put more money in federal coffers by considering fines rather than prison time for marijuana possession, the leader of the federal Marijuana Party said Saturday.
"What is most worrisome is that these fines will become a source of revenue for the state, it will become profitable to stop people for possession," said Marc-Boris Saint-Maurice. "So we will effectively be taxing the consumer with a ticket.
"That is very unfair, because most of the people who will be targeted will be young or poor."
Highly placed sources in the Justice Department told The Canadian Press on Friday that Cauchon is considering relaxing the marijuana laws to make possession punishable by a fine, but that he was not considering making the drug legal, nor would he relax punishments for trafficking.
Saint-Maurice feels that is where Cauchon has gone wrong.
"It is very nice of Mr. Cauchon to think of us cannabis consumers, but my major problem with what was announced is that we could see an increase in the police stopping people for cannabis," he said. "It would be much more appropriate to legalize the product and tax it at the source so that all consumers can contribute to the state."
Saint-Maurice was also concerned quotas would be placed on the amount of fines that had to be handed out each month, making police all the more vigilant at the end of the month.
"Will it be like speeding tickets?" Saint-Maurice asked. "Will there be teams of police officers combing the city at the end of the month looking for consumers to boost that month's budget? It is very disturbing."
Saint-Maurice said his main reason for favouring total legalization is to protect the health and safety of consumers, who currently must trust drug dealers that the product they are selling is safe.
"This measure does nothing concerning the source," he said. "It would give the impression that consumption is more tolerated, but trafficking will remain illegal.
"That is dangerous for the consumer, because they have no idea of the composition of the product they are buying.... It would be more intelligent to create some norms of cultivation, labelling and a legal system of distribution."
Though he was not completely happy with the report of Cauchon's intentions, Saint-Maurice was able to find a bright side.
"At least we've got the minister talking," he said. "But it's certainly not the measure we endorse."
The report comes the same week that Britain announced it will virtually decriminalize cannabis to give police more time to fight the use of hard drugs.
Senator Pierre Claude Nolin, chairman of a Senate committee looking at illegal drugs, dismissed the idea of imposing fines on marijuana-users.
"Most of those who are caught are young people and poor people," Nolin said Friday. "But they don't pay their fines. And what happens when we don't pay fines? We go to prison."
Nolin is expected to table his report on Sept. 4.
In Canada, more than 250 people have clearance to smoke marijuana provided by the federal government. Ottawa amended drug laws last year to allow such clearance for patients with conditions such as HIV, cancer and multiple sclerosis.
Marijuana leaves no long-term effects on most users, and an estimated 30 to 50 per cent of Canadians aged 15 to 24 have used the drug despite its illegality, critics say. The Marijuana Party received 65,000 votes nation-wide in the last federal election.
Meanwhile, Canadian federal agencies spend about $500 million each year to fight drugs and more than 30,000 people are charged with simple possession annually, the Senate committee said in a preliminary report issued a few months ago.
But opponents of decriminalization note that most addicted hard-drug
users start with marijuana.
Copyright © 2000 Canadian Press