Cablegate: Canada: Government Introduces Legislative Changes

Published: Tue 27 May 2003 09:09 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. Summary: On May 27, Canada's Minister of Health Anne
McLellan, Minister of Justice Martin Cauchon, and Solicitor
General Wayne Easter presented to the House of Commons the
long-awaited legislative reforms to Canada's Controlled Drugs
and Substances Act pertaining to marijuana. Debate in the
House will now take place and, according to Minister Cauchon,
the Government hopes the new law will be in place by the end
of the year. The legislative changes are part of what
Minister McLellan said is a renewed National Drug Strategy
that,the GoC hopes, will decrease the use of harmful drugs,
decrease the supply of illicit drugs, modernize and promote
anti-drug laws (including adjusting penalties), and promote
healthy decision-making, especially among younger Canadians.
End Summary.
The Proposed Marijuana legislation
2. The Government of Canada, spearheaded by the Ministers of
Health and Justice and the Solicitor General, introduced the
Cannabis Reform Bill (C-38) to the House of Commons on May
27. According to the GoC's press release, this bill, if
enacted, would replace the current criminal court process and
resulting criminal penalties with alternative penalties for
possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana or one gram or
less of cannabis resin (hashish); would provide law
enforcement officers the discretion to give a ticket or issue
a summons to appear in criminal court for possession of
between 15 and 30 grams of marijuana; would provide for
greater alternative penalties when aggravating factors are
present (including possession while committing an indictable
offense such as operating a motor vehicle or while on or near
school grounds); and would create new offenses and provide
for tougher penalties for illegal growers. Specifically, the
proposed bill would set penalties for the possession of
marijuana as:
-- possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana - fine of USD
100 (youth USD 70)
-- possession of one gram or less of cannabis resin - fine of
USD 200 (youth USD 130)
-- possession of 15 to 30 grams of marijuana - fine of USD
200 (youth USD 130).
3. For possession of 15 to 30 grams, the police officer
present would retain the ability to determine if the offender
should receive a ticket or be issued a summons for a summary
conviction. If a summary conviction is determined, the
penalty for possession would be up to six months in prison
and/or up to about USD 700 in fines. Moreover, if an
individual is caught in possession of marijuana while he/she
is operating a motor vehicle or while near a school, or if
there are other aggravating factors, the fines could be
increased to about USD 300 for an adult and USD 175 for a
youth under 18. And, if an offender is under 18 years of
age, his/her parent/guardian would receive a written notice
of the child's infraction.
4. By decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of
marijuana, the GoC claims that it will be able to focus more
law enforcement resources on combating commercial marijuana
growers and traffickers, including those associated with
organized criminal groups. In his announcement, Minister of
Justice Cauchon said the new legislation would increase
penalties for commercial growers. For instance, individuals
caught growing between 1 and 3 plants could face up to 12
months in jail plus fines up to USD 3500, growers of between
4 and 25 plants could get up to 18 months in jail and fines
up to USD 16,500, growers of 26 to 50 plants could face 10
years and growers of over 50 plants could get 14 years in
prison. In addition, in cases involving the growing of more
than three plants, a judge would have to provide reason why
imprisonment was not imposed where any of the following
aggravating factors was found:
-- a risk of danger for children in the building where the
operation exists;
-- use of traps (set to protect the premises from intruders
or police);
-- use of explosives (booby traps or to destroy evidence);
-- use of land belonging to others (farm land); and
-- operation creating a safety hazard in a residential area.
According to Cauchon, the GoC is proposing no changes to the
penalties for those individuals convicted of narcotics
5. Though Minister of Health McLellan stated in her public
announcement that the GoC recognizes that its move to
decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana
would likely result in an immediate increase in the number of
users, she believed this would be a temporary response by the
public and not a long-lasting trend. McLellan stated that
the proposed decriminalization of marijuana was part of a
renewal of Canada's National Drug Strategy and pledged a new
5-year-USD160 million budget to decrease the use of harmful
drugs; decrease the supply of illicit drugs, modernize and
promote anti-drug laws (including adjusting penalties), and
promote healthy decision-making, especially among younger
6. For his part, Canada's Solicitor General Wayne Easter
stated that the renewed National Drug Strategy would devote
additional resources to Canada's drug awareness program and
would give Canada's law enforcement increased tools with
which to fight Canada's drug war. For instance, Easter
stated that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) would
receive more resources for their efforts to identify and
dismantle indoor marijuana grow operations and precursor
chemical laboratories , money to teach police how to identify
individuals who drive while impaired, money for substance
abuse treatment programs in Canada's penal institutions, and
funds to establish a coordination subgroup within the
Solicitor General's office.
7. Comment: Though the GoC is quick to stress that the
introduction of C-38 is in accordance with the will of the
Canadian people, some MPs, including members of the majority
Liberal Party, have already expressed concern about the bill.
According to Liberal MP Dan McTeague, (quote) it is clear
that there are problems (with C-38) and that some 20 or more
other Liberal MPs are opposed (unquote). Not surprisingly
other MPs, for instance Libby Davis, NDP and Greg Thompson
PC, say C-38 is (quote) out of the twilight zone and is not
well thought out (unquote). Some Parliament watchers suspect
(or hope) that if the Prime Minister allows his party to vote
their consciences, the bill -- as it now is written -- may
not find its way out of debate before the winter recess -
thereby effectively killing it.
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