More MS news articles for Nov 2001

MP expects open marijuana debate

Wednesday, November 7, 2001
By LISA SCHMIDT-- The Canadian Press

OTTAWA (CP) -- Canadian Alliance MP Keith Martin expects a receptive House of Commons when MPs debate his private members bill to decriminalize marijuana.

"I think the government will be open to it," he said before the debate started Wednesday.

Bill C-344 would impose a system of fines -- up to $1,000 -- for possession of small amounts of pot instead of criminal penalties.

Last month, the federal government said it would allow an open vote on the subject. However, private members bills rarely pass in the House.

Martin says about two-thirds of MPs say they support his bill, as does a wide majority of Canadians according to recent polls.

And he expects many open-minds on the Liberal benches, after the federal government approved the use of medicinal marijuana earlier this year.

Both Justice Minister Anne McLellan and Health Minister Allan Rock have said it's time to discuss whether Canada's drug laws are outdated.

"I know we can't wait any longer," said Martin, who is a doctor and says he does not support legalizing the drug.

Other countries that have adopted a similar strategy have not seen drug use increase have been able to redeploy police resources to fight crime in other areas, he said.

In Canada, the move could save $150 million on court costs annually, Martin said.

"Today, post-Sept. 11, when we're trying to find money to go after terrorists and to use to go after more serious villians such as organized crime gangs we have to find money somewhere."

Canada's police chiefs and the RCMP have come out in favour of decriminalization, although they say Martin's bill goes too far by lowering some existing fines.

The Canadian Medical Association Journal has called on Ottawa to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use.

A small number of Canadians have obtained special permits to use cannabis to relieve the symptoms of cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis or epilepsy.

For anyone else, simple possession is a criminal offence.

The idea has come under fire from the Canadian Police Association, which represents over 30,000 officers across the country.

Among MPs, Tory Leader Joe Clark has said he supports decriminalization of marijuana in small amounts.

A Senate committee and a House of Commons committee are currently examining non-medical drug use in Canada.