By Alfa · Mar 12, 2005 ·
  1. Alfa

    OTTAWA -- A senior federal Liberal cabinet minister broke ranks Friday with the government's opposition to legalizing marijuana as debate on issues around pot raged at the party's policy convention in light of the deaths of four Alberta Mounties during a grow-op raid.

    Treasury Board President Reg Alcock said he will vote to legalize pot if a resolution on the issue comes up at the policy meeting this weekend, noting he has voted in favour of the idea at party policy conventions going back to 1978.

    "If we actually wanted to break the back of organized crime, we would be better off to control it," said Alcock. "When you have these things underground, what you end up fuelling is organized crime."

    He said "normal policing" has failed to stamp out pot, but that legalization would provide "a better chance of controlling it than we do right now."

    Alcock's views stood in stark contrast to those of Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan, who told reporters "we should not be sending mixed signals around how we as a government view this."

    The former health minister acknowledged she has been accused of being a "puritanical zealot" over her opposition to legalizing pot.

    "This is a dangerous substance. We know it is a more potent carcinogen than smoke tobacco. That's what the research tells us. That's irrefutable.

    That's science," she said.

    Among the resolutions at the meeting is a proposal to have the Liberal party encourage the government to legalize marijuana for reasons that include making the traffic in pot safer and allowing the government to "make $3 billion in tax revenue a year."

    The shooting deaths of four Mounties during the ill-fated raid near Mayerthorpe, in northwestern Alberta, spilled over into the corridors of the conference centre and hotel where federal Liberals are holding a four-day party convention, forcing ministers to defend the government's policies on illegal drugs.

    Much of the discussion revolved around the government's proposed marijuana decriminalization bill, which would soften penalties for possession of small amounts of pot, but toughen penalties for growers.

    Growers could face sentences of 18 months to 14 years in jail depending on the number of plants they were caught with.

    Bill C-38 has passed first reading in the House and is now subject to review by a parliamentary committee.

    McLellan noted that the bill includes provisions to force judges to take a harder line on illegal grow ops, including an explanation in written reasons if there is no jail time for an offence.

    "All of us, whatever role we play in society, need to understand the seriousness of illegal grow ops and the fact that they are not, in any way, a victimless crime. In fact, most grow ops are controlled by and run for the benefit of organized crime," said McLellan.

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