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U.S. Turns Up Heat on Canada Over Marijuana Plans
Fri May 16, 5:00 PM ET
By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA (Reuters) - The head of U.S. drug policy launched one
of his strongest attacks on Friday on Canada's plans to relax
penalties for marijuana possession, and dismissed as
"ridiculous" one of Ottawa's main reasons for pushing ahead
with the idea.
The Canadian government will introduce draft legislation later
this month that would replace jail terms and criminal records
with fines of perhaps C$100 ($73) for possession of 15 grams
(half an ounce) or less of pot.
John Walters, director of the White House office of National
Drug Control Policy, said he feared this would hamper U.S.
efforts to cut the amount of powerful Canadian-grown marijuana
from being smuggled across the border.
"The problem now is that the high-potency marijuana business
is growing uncontrollably in Canada... You're sending us the
crack equivalent of marijuana and that's bad for both
countries," he told CBC television.
"What we've been trying to do with Canadian officials (is
learn) 'What's the plan to make this smaller as a harm to the
United States?' And there isn't one now, that's the problem,"
Canadian Justice Minister Martin Cauchon, who will introduce
the legislation at the end of May, criticizes existing
marijuana laws for being largely ineffective and enforced
Supporters of the legislation say it would allow police to
focus on catching organized crime gangs dealing in drugs
rather than arresting and charging small-time pot users.
But Walters strongly questioned this argument, saying there
was no evidence Canadian law enforcement officials were
cracking down on marijuana users.
"It's completely ridiculous to suggest that Canada is locking
up users in significant numbers. That's not happening. In
fact, to claim they're even being arrested in large numbers is
a distortion. That's what Canadian law enforcement tells me,"
Walters complained that penalties for drug users were not
harsh enough in Canada and suggested -- as he has done in the
past -- that border security might have to be tightened if the
law were passed. This could have a crushing effect on Canadian
exporters, which are heavily reliant on the U.S. market.
Canadian Solicitor-General Wayne Easter, in overall charge of
law enforcement, said Walters should wait to see the details
of the legislation.
"When the entire strategy comes out, as will happen in the
last two or three days of the month, I think Mr. Walters as
well as others in the United States will see that we are in
fact making fairly major moves forward," he told reporters.
"Our objective is to make those borders secure and to do what
we have to do to eliminate the movement of high quality
(marijuana)... anyone caught smuggling the product across the
border will face very severe penalties."
Cauchon says an estimated 100,000 of Canada's 30 million
people are using pot daily and the numbers are increasing. He
has said that marijuana would remain illegal, even if no
longer criminal, and that penalties would be toughened
substantially for marijuana-growing operations.
Several U.S. states, including New York, California, Oregon
and Ohio, have already relaxed laws on simple possession and
issue fines to those found with small amounts of marijuana.