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Cablegate: Canada: Marijuana Legislation Introduced Anew

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS OTTAWA 002951

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV SNAR PREL KCRM CA
SUBJECT: CANADA: MARIJUANA LEGISLATION INTRODUCED ANEW

1) (SBU) Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler re-introduced the
marijuana decriminalization bill on Monday, November 1st.
Along with a bill designed to give police powers to arrest
and charge those who drive under the influence of drugs.
The Decriminalization Bill was Bill C-10 in the pervious
session of Parliament and is now numbered Bill C-17. The
second piece of Legislation was numbered C-32 during the
last Parliament and is now numbered Bill C-16. These Bills
would decriminalize possession of small amounts of
marijuana, replacing criminal charges with ticket fines
similar those given for traffic offences. At the same time
they attempt to give increased power to police to deal with
marijuana growing operations. Minister Cotler went out of
his way to try and avoid using the term "decriminalization"
and instead referred to quote alternate penalty frameworks
unquote. He insisted that marijuana possession and
consumption would still be illegal in Canada.

2) (SBU) Just as in the old bill, under the current text of
Bill C-17, criminal charges would be replaced with fines for
anyone caught with up to 15 grams of marijuana. Cotler
stated that the goal of the proposed legislation is to help
police forces with their efforts against on marijuana
growing operations and related organized crime rather than
minor possession cases. In addition to replacing criminal
charges with a system of fines, the bill doubles the maximum
time penalties for those convicted of growing marijuana and
creates new sentencing criteria for dealing with growing
operations. The new offences include; using a third party's
property for a grow-op, creating a hazard to children,
creating a general public safety hazard, and placing booby
traps in a grow-op. The maximum sentence has increased to
fourteen years, but the Government of Canada has not yet
addressed how often judges actually employ the maximum
sentence.

3) (SBU) The second bill, C-16 attempts to address the
problem of impaired driving under the influence of drugs.
Currently, Canadian drivers cannot be forced to submit to
drug testing. Under the new bill police would have the
power to conduct simple `physical coordination' tests if
they have quote reasonable grounds to believe unquote that a
driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If
satisfied that the evidence from the first test suggests
impairment, the police may then demand that the person
provide oral fluid, urine or blood for testing. Reasonable
Grounds are not further defined in the bill but it does
state that police may begin to conduct their evaluation if
they believe that a person has taken drugs quote at any time
within the preceding three hours unquote. Cotler announced
that a $5.5million fund was being created to train police in
impairment testing. Critics state that drugs can remain in
a person's system for weeks, which could result in false
positives.

4) (SBU) In the House of Commons the initial responses to
the re-introduction of these bills fall along predictable
lines. The Bloc Quebecois is reported in the national media
to have only minor concerns, and is generally accepted to be
supporting of the Bill. The Conservative and Official
Opposition Justice Critic Vic Toews has warned that his
party is concerned about the effects such legislation could
have on economic ties to the United States, particularly the
ability of Canadian goods to cross the U.S. border
efficiently. NDP Justice Critic and House Leader Libby
Davies says the NDP will seek an amnesty for the 600 000
Canadians she says have already been convicted of simple
possession and therefore have criminal records. The NDP
also wants reduced fines for people with three plants or
less in their home.

5) (SBU) Comment: One Senior Policy Advisor in the Ministry
of Justice told Pol Off that he thought the chances of this
marijuana de-criminalization bill passing unscathed through
a split Parliament were nil. He noted however, that since
the PM had promised to reintroduce the bill, it had to be
done. Of the ten or so Members of Parliament who chose to
speak about C-17 during the November second Question Period,
six members raised concerns over the possible negative
impact of that Government of Canada's De-Criminalization
proposal could have on the U.S.-Canada border. End Comment.
CELLUCCI

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