Volume 97, Issue 2
Thursday, May 29, 2003

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Chretien's Liberals decriminalize pot; critics think he's been smoking some

By Emmett Macfarlane
Gazette Staff

TOMMY CHONG: Greatest hippie of all time
 

The federal government introduced controversial pot legislation Tuesday which would decriminalize possession of small amounts of the drug.

"It's a stupid measure," said Western sociology professor Paul Whitehead, adding the new legislation will lead to higher rates of use, particularly among the young.

"The really important thing is what happens to children and adolescents," Whitehead explained. "[Decriminalization] increases the acceptability of use," he said. "As a result, there will be more kids in trouble."

Patrick Charette, spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice, said the legislation was introduced because the government does not feel simple possession warrants a lifetime criminal record.

Under the new legislation maximum jail terms for growers and dealers would increase from seven to 14 years, Charette confirmed, noting punishments dealt to persons breaking the law have been inconsistent across the country.

Charette said the government had discussions with the United States, adding the goals of both countries are the same.The tabled reform is part of a broader strategy of prevention and enforcement, he added.

Western political science professor John McDougall said the marijuana issue will not have as great an impact to Canada's relationship with the U.S. as some people think. "I think the concern on this side of the border is exaggerating the concern of the [Americans]," he said, adding the issue needs to be put into context.

McDougall said decriminalizing pot is not as relevant to U.S. relations as certain trade disputes, where there might be strong economic interests on the part of the U.S. "One of the unusual aspects of this from the American point of view [is that] several states have implemented similar [legislation]."

Richard Garlick, director of communications for the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, said other jurisdictions where similar changes have been made did not see a significant increase in the use of cannabis.

"We don't believe the impact will be that dramatic," Garlick said. "The law as it exists now is not a huge deterrent."

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