Canada's new marijuana law will
hurt U.S. problem: official
August 22, 2003 - Associated Press and Canadian Press
Detroit — The United States is being inundated with potent marijuana from Canada, and the problem would be exacerbated if Ottawa decriminalized the drug, the U.S. drug czar said Friday.
While marijuana possession would remain illegal under the proposed Canadian legislation, those found with up to 15 grams would receive a citation similar to a traffic ticket. Violators would be ticketed and ordered to pay fines ranging from $100 to $400.
John P. Walters, director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, said some Canadian drug traffickers have used selective breeding to grow marijuana that has up to 30 per cent content of THC, the psychoactive chemical found in marijuana. In comparison, he said, much of the marijuana used in the 1970s had less than one per cent content of THC.
High-potency marijuana is more likely to cause addiction and health problems, officials have said.
"The kind of marijuana coming from Canada is essentially the crack of marijuana," Mr. Walters said in a news conference at a Detroit drug treatment centre. "It is dangerous. It is destructive."
He added that a multibillion-dollar industry has emerged in Canada to produce and distribute drugs to the United States.
"The problem is the political leadership in Canada has been utterly unable to come to grips with this," he said. "They're talking about legalization while Rome burns."
Canada's Solicitor-General Wayne Easter, the minister responsible for the RCMP, has already played down such fears.
"We do have the sovereign right to make our own laws. And there is a recognition that the current laws are not working," Mr. Easter said earlier this year.
Justice Minister Martin Cauchon, who introduced the new legislation in May, has said the only thing that will change is the way some offences will be prosecuted.
"We are not legalizing marijuana and have no plans to do so," Mr. Cauchon said at the time.
One of the Canadian government's main reasons for moving ahead with the changes is that casual pot smokers will no longer face the threat of jail and a small-time user won't automatically end up with a criminal record.
However, there would be no respite for growers or dealers. The maximum sentence for grow operations would be 14 years in prison, up from the current seven. The penalty for trafficking would remain a maximum life sentence, although in practice the longest terms usually handed out are about 20 years for major dealers.
Rulings could put pot charges across country on hold
Criminal charges for possessing small amounts of pot could be put on hold in provinces across the country following court rulings in Ontario and P.E.I., says a prominent legal expert.
A provincial court judge in P.E.I. ruled this month that an Ontario court decision which prompted the adjournment of all simple possession charges in Ontario should be binding in other provinces as well. He was referring to the Parker case in Windsor, Ont. - now under appeal - which saw charges thrown out against a 16-year-old boy on the argument that the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act no longer effectively prohibits possession under 30 grams. It led the federal Justice Department to ask its Crown attorneys to seek an adjournment or stay of all simple possession charges in Ontario. Justice officials last week similarly stayed all pot possession charges in P.E.I. as a result of the ruling there.
Alan Young, a professor at Osgoode Hall law school in Toronto, said judges in other provinces may also follow suit out of sheer frustration with Ottawa's sluggishness in dealing with marijuana possession laws. "Really, I think people are fed up and I would think that pretty much across the country, with the exception of possibly Alberta, most courts would be more than happy to start staying marijuana prosecution."
Young said many lawyers may not realize the charges in Ontario and P.E.I. have been stayed pending the results of the Parker appeal, but judges would not hesitate if lawyers point out the law is vulnerable. "If raised, I can't imagine many courts wanting to proceed with these minor cases knowing that they may be imposing criminal records on people who effectively have done nothing criminal."
In an interview, Justice Ralph Thompson of P.E.I. provincial court said he'd received several requests for a copy of his ruling from other provinces. Adding to the law's vulnerability is the fact Justice Minister Martin Cauchon has promised to introduce new legislation to decriminalize marijuana.
The legislation, originally promised by the end of April, could now take until the end of the session in late June, Cauchon said recently. Three key cases now before the Supreme Court involving simple possession, trafficking and a marijuana "club," also hang in the balance, and have been put off until May 6. But Thompson said he didn't take into account Cauchon's promised new law in making his decision. "Basically what I determined was that it would be an abuse of process to permit the charge to proceed here when charges weren't proceeding in Ontario," he said. "Until such time as the law can be uniformly applied across the country in such a way that 12 million people in Ontario are not subject to prosecution, then that charge will not proceed here."
Young argued the P.E.I. ruling should prompt the Justice Department to stay possession charges countrywide. "Why they wouldn't give an instruction like that across the country is puzzling considering that we have national criminal law," he said. "My explanation is that they never go out of their way to move this issue in a progressive way. They do as little as possible and they wait until they're pushed again." Cauchon has said he will continue to defend the current law until it is changed.
Copyright: 2003 The Halifax Herald Limited
Liberals Plan POT Law Reforms
The Chrétien government will bring in a new law in June to decriminalize simple marijuana possession as part of a revamped National Drug Strategy that will include more resources to combat drug trafficking, the Star has learned.
The move has met serious objections around the cabinet table among senior government members who fear it will further chill Canada-U.S. relations. Others worry about potential effects on public health. Still, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien backs the bill, which is expected to make possession of small amounts of marijuana a mere ticketing offence that would not carry the stigma of a criminal record, said a senior government source.
Chrétien views the sporadic and inconsistent enforcement of the current law against marijuana possession across the country as "a basic injustice" which not only stigmatizes some Canadians, but also breeds disrespect for the law, said the insider.
Now, some young Canadians convicted of pot possession, particularly in rural areas, are saddled with a criminal record and even serve jail time, while others get away with only a warning from police too busy to pursue minor pot offences. The plan is to devote more resources to fighting drug traffickers and give new money to police and courts for that purpose.
No decision has been made on what amount of marijuana in a person's possession would be considered "small" and for "personal use" under the law; it could be as low as 10 grams ( about 10 marijuana cigarettes ) it could go as high as 20 grams. In the past, 30 grams has been used as the dividing line between offences of simple possession and those of drug trafficking. But the source said the government recognizes much of the marijuana sold today is more potent than in the past.
The insider downplayed any possibility of a border backlash from the United States, saying the bill will be a made-in-Canada initiative to reflect this country's law enforcement priorities and concerns. "We're a sovereign country and we make laws appropriate to Canadian circumstances," the source said. "And the intention of the drug strategy is to dedicate more resources to deal with the problem of trafficking, which does speak to American concerns."
The government believes a strong argument can be made that a ticketing regime that imposes a penalty "would do more to discourage the use of marijuana than the current law." John Walters, the White House director of U.S. drug control policy, has repeatedly warned Canada against liberalizing its drug laws, blaming much of the high-strength marijuana on U.S. streets on Canadian pot growers and smugglers. But the Canadian government has been emboldened by justice department opinion polls showing the percentage of public support for decriminalization "in the high 70s."
The move is also supported by the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Chiefs of Police, and by the recommendations of two parliamentary committees last year. One, a special Commons committee, called for the decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana. The other, a Senate committee, urged that possession of small amounts of pot be legalized.
Chrétien, the source said, has long supported decriminalization, but in the nearly 30 years since the Le Dain commission urged liberalization of marijuana laws, has watched politicians avoid acting because of the "political heat" the issue generates. "Who better to tackle this issue now than this Prime Minister?"
Another government source said Justice Minister Martin Cauchon has faced an uphill battle to persuade fellow cabinet ministers John Manley, who is responsible for border concerns, Health Minister Anne McLellan, and Solicitor-General Wayne Easter to support the initiative.
Sources acknowledge there is a public health perspective to the debate inside cabinet. "Marijuana is a harmful substance. ( There are ) the same concerns one has with tobacco; the impairment of driving skills that's definitely a concern," a source said. "But ... we're looking at taking steps that would in fact discourage the use in a way where no discouragement occurs now, except in cases where a penalty that is more severe than the harm is applied."
Copyright 1996-2003. Toronto Star
Good news for claiming pot
Herald (CN NS)
Ontario user says its possible to claim weed on income tax An Ontario medical marijuana smoker has some good news for sick Nova Scotians who want to claim their pot as a medical expense on their income tax returns.
"It's not a problem," Alison Myrden said in an interview Wednesday from her Burlington home. "We've been doing this for the past few years." The 38-year old former corrections officer was one of the first Canadians to successfully claim the cost of her marijuana as a legitimate medication for her multiple sclerosis.
A Nova Scotia woman told the Herald this week she won't file her tax return this year because Canada Customs and Revenue agency is denying her claim. However, filing returns should be a little easier now for Jane Parker of Lunenburg County. The key, said Ms, Myrden, is a doctors prescription - the same piece of paper that opened the door to her own smoking permit from Health Canada. "It has to be prescribed to us by a doctor, otherwise we wouldn't be allowed to have the federal exemption," she said.
Like 800 other Canadians, Ms. Myrden's permit exempts her from prosecution under Section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. "(The doctors) just write a note saying they prescribe cannabis as medicine," she said. "Then they sign their name, we photocopy that and send it in with our taxes." "Exemptees" or "medpot" smokers, also have a few other document requirements, including submitting receipts outlining their "purchases".
A bit of creativity is allowed because most drug sellers aren't willing to identify themselves. "The dealers obviously won't sign the receipts," Ms. Myrden said with a laugh. "So we have to sign for the people we are purchasing from."
Users must also submit a copy if their federal exemption card and a note saying the marijuana is an over-the-counter narcotic for medical use only and prescribed by their doctor and Health Canada. "So its a little bit complicated," she said. "But its worth it." Ms. Myrden, who uses an accountant to do her taxes, has spent about $14,000.00 annually for the past eight years on medical marijuana.
Her permit is to smoke 12 grams a day is one of the highest in the country. "I eat it, drink it, smoke it," she said. But she's without the drug right now because she can't afford the $1200.00 a month. "And I'm so desperate that my neurologist put me on the marijuana pill...which doesn't help at all.
"I take over 32 pills a day when I don't have medical marijuana," she said adding her drugcocktail makes her sleepy and sick. Besides MS, which she's had since her teens, Ms. Myrden suffers from severe facial pain called tic douloureux, or trigeminal neuralgia. "It's associated with four percent of people with MS. "My doctor told me the other day that he can't do anything else for me, there' nothing else out there." But medical marijuana helps - and one strain in particular. "When I have this type of marijuana, within 10 minutes the pain in my face is gone for over two hours."
Ms. Myrden is one of nine Canadians suing Ottawa for the right to use the government's experimental marijuana crops being grown in Flin Flon, Man. "They've been sitting on it for how many years now...and its not fair that we're not allowed access to it."