LIBERALS UNVEIL POT BILL FOR SECOND TIME
OTTAWA - Paul Martin's Liberals reintroduced a controversial bill Monday that would decriminalize marijuana possession and replace criminal charges with fines for anyone caught with up to 15 grams of the drug.
The new possession bill comes with the same old warning from Justice Minister Irwin Cotler: This doesn't mean marijuana will be legalized in Canada.
"Marijuana use is and remains illegal," he said. "What we have done here is alter penalty frameworks."
If the bill passes, adults who are caught with less than 15 grams of marijuana could be fined up to $400, but would not be left with a criminal record.
Cotler said the new possession bill will help police forces focus on more serious offences like marijuana growing operations and trafficking, as well as links between the marijuana trade and organized crime.
The bill doubles the length of prison sentences for marijuana growers, and introduces four new offences dealing with growing operations.
Also on Monday, the government reintroduced a bill on drug-impaired driving, designed to placate its critics on the opposition benches by giving police more tools to crack down on people who drive while they're stoned.
During the last parliament, the marijuana possession bill was one of the most hotly contested pieces of legislation.
All the opposition parties eventually supported the bill after months of work at the committee level, but the legislation died without being passed when Martin called an election for June 28.
Now the Liberals have to convince opposition MPs to support the measure again, but in a minority government situation.
NDP House Leader Libby Davies said her party thinks the new bill opens the door to too much enforcement for simple possession.
She said the NDP will seek several more changes at the committee level, including "some provision for amnesty for the approximately 600,000 Canadians who have a criminal record for simple possession of marijuana."