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Locals Debate Harper's Stance On Pot

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[font=Comic Sans MS,Arial,Helvetica]British Columbia
13 Apr 2006
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By Mark Browne


It's not a good time to get busted for marijuana possession now that Stephen Harper is the prime minister.

When the Liberal Party held power in Ottawa they drafted legislation calling for the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana.

But the Conservative Party and Harper have indicated an intention to scrap planned legislation.

Harper recently expressed that position at the annual Canadian Professional Police Association conference in Ottawa.

"Harper adheres to this notion that society should morally sanction people who use illegal drugs," said Keith Martin, the Liberal MP for Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca.

Martin has called for the decriminalization of marijuana since he was an MP for the Reform Party.

While Martin has concerns about people abusing marijuana he said he doesn't believe that they should be treated like criminals.

Martin favours law enforcement agencies taking a tougher approach against organized crime groups involved in growing marijuana rather than recreational pot smokers. Prohibition only makes organized crime groups involved in the sale of marijuana rich, Martin said.

"Prohibition is like music to the ears of organized crime.

The day that the government chooses to decriminalize the simple possession of marijuana is the day that organized crime gangs are going to have a big problem," he said.

Organized crime groups in the U.S. experienced major financial setbacks when the law prohibiting alcohol, established in 1920, was repealed in 1933, Martin pointed out.

Ted Smith, president of the Victoria-based International Hempology 101 Society, said he doesn't support the draft marijuana decriminalization legislation introduced by the Liberals when they were in power.

Smith has long been an outspoken proponent of the outright legalization of marijuana.

"I'm glad they're not decriminalizing cannabis. It's the lawyers term for job protection. It still means that the police can take it away from you, harass you and still have the same powers under the old law," he said.

The draft legislation would have amounted to minor marijuana possession being treated like a traffic violation where people would be fined but wouldn't receive a criminal record.

If such legislation were to become law, Smith argued it could prevent marijuana from ever being legalized outright.

"What we need is a temporary policy of non-enforcement. That's what's going to lead us toward legalization - not a system of fines," he said.

Aside from Harper's moral position against people smoking pot, Martin argued that Harper's tough stance is all about cozying up to U.S. President George W. Bush.

"He's trying to get on the good side of Mr. Bush," he said.

Smith agreed.

"The population ( of Canada ) could be 95 per cent in favour of legalization and they'll still stick with their position until the United States changes," he said.

Saanich-Gulf Islands Conservative MP Gary Lunn said that abandoning legislation decriminalizing marijuana is more about priorities.

"This is not one of our priorities, this is not one of our policies - so we're not going there," Lunn said.

The Conservatives are more concerned about such issues as the proposed federal accountability legislation, reducing the GST and justice reforms, he said.

Lunn acknowledges that the party's position on pot is about more than being concerned about other priorities. And he also has his own concerns about what might happen if marijuana was decriminalized.

"Do you send the right message out to young people by legalizing marijuana? Is it a stepping stone to harder drugs? I'm not convinced it's the right road to go down," Lunn said.
 

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