Friday July 12 7:51 PM EST
By ISABELLE RODRIGUE
Justice Minister Martin Cauchon is considering relaxing Canada's marijuana laws to make possession punishable by a fine instead of a prison sentence, The Canadian Press has learned. But Cauchon's plans do not include making the drug legal, said highly placed sources in the Justice Department.
While fines would be imposed for possession of marijuana, trafficking would continue to draw harsher punishments, the sources said. Cauchon might address the issue at a meeting of the Canadian Bar next month in London, Ont., they added. 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. "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.
Proponents of decriminalization dismiss the war on drugs as a waste of time and money.
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.
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