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RM Issue #031012

Federal government may toughen marijuana bill to appease critics
By JIM BROWN Thu, October 9, 2003
OTTAWA (CP) - The Liberal government sent cautious signals Thursday that it may agree to toughen some provisions of its marijuana decriminalization bill in response to domestic critics.

But Justice Minister Martin Cauchon stood fast against harsher attacks from south of the border, rejecting claims by John Walters, the U.S. drug czar, that Canada's approach is out of step with the rest of the hemisphere.

The double-barrelled message came as the Liberals moved to fast- track legislation that would eliminate the threat of jail terms and criminal records for anyone in possession of 15 grams or less of pot.

"The government is listening and willing to consider amendments to ensure we get it right," Cauchon told the House of Commons.

He did not elaborate, but senior sources say the justice minister is prepared to look at lowering the possession limit to 10 grams, in the hope of winning over dissident Liberal backbenchers and some provincial justice ministers who have been critical of the bill.

He is also reportedly willing to consider tougher penalties for repeat offenders and minimum mandatory prison terms for people involved in marijuana grow operations.

Cauchon bristled, however, when Walters delivered a speech in Washington describing Canada as "the once place in the hemisphere where things are going the wrong way."

The White House director of drug policy has previously suggested decriminalization of pot could cause problems at the U.S. border, as American customs officers step up their searches of tourists and commercial traffic.

"He should maybe look in his own backyard," Cauchon retorted, noting that more than 10 U.S. states have eliminated criminal penalties for simple possession of marijuana.

"If it's not correct to move in that direction, maybe he should start spending some time talking to his own states."

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