Liberals To Speed Bill Easing Pot Laws

Liberals To Speed Bill Easing Pot Laws
Posted by CN Staff on October 09, 2003 at 06:40:15 PT
By Tonda MacCharles, Ottawa Bureau
Source: Toronto Star 
Ottawa  A day after the Ontario appeal court restored the criminal law banning marijuana possession, except for medical purposes, the federal government moved quickly to push through its controversial bill to ease criminal sanctions for pot smokers.Today, Justice Minister Martin Cauchon will employ a little-used legislative tool to refer the pot bill, not to the standing justice committee, but directly to a specially reconstituted committee, led by Liberal MP Paddy Torsney.
That Commons committee was one of two parliamentary committees examining pot laws last year and it recommended easing criminal penalties. A Senate committee went further, recommending legalization.Cauchon said yesterday Torsney's committee already has "expertise" on the issue, and would "accelerate" passage of the bill, he hoped, before Christmas. He called the pot bill one of several priorities this session. "That bill has the full support of cabinet colleagues around the table."Cauchon refused to say whether he doubted prime-minister-in-waiting Paul Martin's commitment to the bill. He called it high time the government changed Canada's pot law because the issue has been studied for 30 years. "When we look at the situation in Canada, there are more and more young people using cannabis. "So that says that, as a society, we are not sending a clear enough message. And we want a clearer message."Since it was tabled in May, the government bill has had no real study in Parliament.It would decriminalize possession of 15 grams (as many as 30 marijuana joints) by proposing fines, instead of a criminal conviction and a record, for offenders.Committee study of the bill is to get under way after just three hours of debate, before it passes second reading in the Commons.House leader Don Boudria said referring it before second reading "permits amendments beyond the scope of the bill." Cauchon has said he is open to amendments but would not specify in what areas.Last week, several provincial justice ministers pressed for changes that would deal more harshly with repeat offenders.Canadian Alliance justice critic Vic Toews said he does not see how the committee can examine all the issues raised by softer penalties before Christmas.Toews wants the committee to examine whether looser drug laws will lead to: more drug use among young people; more cannabis-impaired drivers, whose level of impairment cannot be accurately measured in roadside tests; and tougher border controls that might hurt trade with the United States. The Alliance last year warned against decriminalizing amounts that would appear to legalize use and trafficking. It said a more reasonable threshold for decriminalization would be 5 grams, or about 5 or 6 joints.The government bill also toughens penalties for large-scale marijuana growers and traffickers and provides $245 million for more drug enforcement and education programs.It does not address medical marijuana use.It also doesn't address the regulations the Ontario appeal court deemed unconstitutional because they force sick people buy the drug on the black market. Medical use comes under the portfolio of Health Minister Anne McLellan.McLellan said Tuesday she was "heartened" that the appeal court "upheld our medicinal marijuana access regulations" but needed to study the decision further.The judges indicated a handful of provisions were unconstitutional, she said, "but they upheld the overall regime in light of our interim July policy around licit supply of seed and/or product."Health officials will look at the court's finding that a requirement, in some cases, for a second specialist's approval is unconstitutional, she said.Alliance health critic Rob Merrifield said the courts and the government have made a "mistake" on medical marijuana, and have gone too far in easing access for users."It was a disaster from day one ... they have no scientific evidence that it's the drug that should be prescribed."Another Alliance MP, Dr. Keith Martin, a physician who advocates decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, said sick people should have access to the drug "but it has to be controlled. You can't criminalize sick people for wanting to pursue relief through marijuana."Martin does not believe the government should distribute pot. He said it should set up a proper regulatory system under which horticulturalists grow marijuana, with a prescribed THC level, and distribute it through physicians, licensed to prescribe it.With files from Valerie Lawton and Les Whittington.Note: Cauchon hopes for legislation to pass by Christmas. Amendments still possible, minister says.Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)Author: Tonda MacCharles, Ottawa BureauPublished: October 9, 2003Copyright: 2003 The Toronto Star Contact: lettertoed Website: Related Articles & Web Site:Cannabis News Canadian Links Move To Fast-Track Passage of MJ Bill Move To Fast-Track Marijuana Bill
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Comment #1 posted by FoM on October 09, 2003 at 06:43:20 PT
News Brief: The Canadian Press
New Law Will Target Drug-Impaired Drivers
 Thursday, October 09, 2003 
WINNIPEG -- Manitoba will be the first province in Canada to introduce a law allowing police to take drug-impaired drivers off the road. Justice Minister Gord Mackintosh says the changes will allow police to administer roadside drug tests to drivers suspected of being high on marijuana, cocaine or prescription medication. Such testing isn't recognized under current law in Manitoba. Those who fail the tests under the planned changes will have their driver's licence suspended for 24 hours or more, depending on the circumstances. Mackintosh also says it's possible that offenders may have their vehicles impounded for up to a month, although that's still being considered. Details of the amendments to the Highway Traffic Act are still being completed. But Mackintosh says they will be introduced in next month's legislative session and should be law by the spring. Copyright: 2003 CP
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