Wednesday, November 7, 2001
By LISA SCHMIDT-- The Canadian Press
OTTAWA (CP) -- Canadian Alliance MP Keith Martin says a majority of federal politicians, including Liberals, support his private member's bill calling for the decriminalization of marijuana.
"I think the government will be open to it," Martin, a medical doctor, said before MPs began debating the bill Wednesday.
Bill C-344 would impose a system of fines -- up to $1,000 -- rather than criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of pot.
Last month, the federal government said it will allow an open vote on the subject, which will come at a later date. However, private members bills rarely pass in the House of Commons.
Martin said about two-thirds of MPs have expressed support for his bill , and recent polls have shown a wide majority of Canadians also want decriminalization.
He also said he expects many open minds on the Liberal benches, especially since the federal government approved the use of medicinal marijuana 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Minister Anne McLellan and Health Minister Allan Rock have said it's time to discuss whether Canada's drug laws are outdated.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, adding he does not support legalizing the drug.
Other countries that have adopted a similar strategy have not seen drug use increase, he said, and have been able to redeploy police resources to fight crime in other areas.
In Canada, the move could save $150 million on court costs annually, Martin claimed.
"Today, post-Sept. 11, when we're trying to find money to go after terrorists and to use to go after more serious villains 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.
Both Commons and Senate committees are currently examining non-medical drug use in Canada.