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Martin to roll his own pot bill

By Hempology | December 18, 2003

From the Globe And Mail, December 18th, 2003

By Jim Brown

Ottawa Prime Minister Paul Martin says he’ll press ahead with legislation, first proposed under Jean Chrtien, to eliminate criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

But he hinted Thursday he’d like to see a new definition of what constitutes a “small amount” and invited a parliamentary committee to consider lowering the limit from the original proposal of 15 grams.

Mr. Martin told reporters he sees a health risk in pot use and observed that “any doctor will tell you it’s far from the best thing for you.”

On the central point of the law, however, he insisted that it achieves “absolutely nothing to give a criminal record to young people caught with minimal amounts.”

The bill brought in under Mr. Chrtien, which died on the House of Commons order paper last month, will be reintroduced when MPs return to work in the new year, Mr. Martin said.

He then offered suggestions for fine-tuning it before it becomes law.

“I think that one’s got to take a look at the fines. I think that you have to take a look the quantities, and I think that there has to be a larger effort against the grow-ops and against those who distribute.”

In a year-end interview Thursday with CPAC, the parliamentary public affairs channel, Mr. Martin confided he’d never smoked pot but said his wife Sheila once made some brownies “and I must say they had a strange taste.”

The Supreme Court of Canada is set to rule next week on whether the current marijuana law violates the Charter of Rights by mandating criminal penalties, including potential jail time, for simple possession.

Mr. Martin’s comments signalled that even if the high court upholds the constitutionality of the present regime he will move to reform it anyway.

The bill tabled last spring by then-justice minister Martin Cauchon did not propose outright legalization of marijuana. But it made simple possession a minor offence, punishable by a range of fines, somewhat like traffic violations.

Mr. Cauchon denied the government was going soft on drugs, pointing out that the legislation maintained or increased the already stiff jail terms for illicit growers and traffickers.

All the same, the bill provoked the ire of hardliners in the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush.

John Walters, the White House director of drug policy, complained Canada was out of step with the rest of the western hemisphere.

Paul Cellucci, the U.S. ambassador to Ottawa, warned of long lineups at border points as American customs officers scrutinize visitors from the north.

Mr. Martin, who has promised to improve relations with Washington, nevertheless dismissed suggestions that Ottawa should bow to American concerns on this issue.

“We are an independent nation,” he told CTV in another yearend interview Thursday.

“We will make decisions based on our values and our interests. We’re not going to make these kinds of decisions based on what somebody else thinks. We’ll base them on what Canadians think.”

Aside from the U.S. criticism, there was opposition to the original bill from backbench Liberal MPs, many of them well-known supporters of Mr. Martin’s bid for the party leadership.

Mr. Cauchon, who was dropped from cabinet last week, had tried to deflect that attack by opening the door to possible amendments, among them:

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