POT LAW NO THREAT TO U.S. "Memo to Canadian customs and immigration authorities: As the states of Maine, New York, Michigan and Alaska have marijuana laws that are considerably more lenient than Canada's, Canadian border personnel should take stern measures to insure that vehicles from those states are not smuggling illegal substances into Canada. If such searches cause border tie-ups and hamper trade: too bad." As far as we know, no one at Canada Customs or RCMP headquarters has sent a memo like that to the unarmed men and women who staff our border posts. But if Canada were to follow Paul Cellucci's logic, by now someone should have. In a meeting with the National Post's editorial board this week, the U.S. ambassador painted a generally positive picture of current relations between our two countries, but expressed serious misgivings about Ottawa's plan to make the possession of small amounts of marijuana a non-criminal offence, punishable by a fine rather than jail time. That, he warned, would put U.S. customs officers on high alert for smugglers, further snarling lineups at the border and interfering with trade. "Why," he asked plaintively, "when we're trying to take pressure off the border, would Canada pass a law putting pressure on the border?" If he's really looking for an answer, maybe he should ask the members of New York's state legislature. They've decreed that possessing as much as eight ounces of marijuana - i.e. 226 grams - is only a misdemeanour, rather than a felony. And in Alaska - the state with the longest border with Canada - residents can possess up to a pound of pot, or more than 450 grams, without facing criminal charges. Given Ottawa's modest decriminalization proposal sets the upper limit at 15 grams, maybe the wrong ambassador is doing the complaining. Maybe it's Canada that needs protection from decadent border states. According to the Washington-based National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, 12 states have already decriminalized marijuana, and 100 million Americans - fully a third of the U.S. population - already live under drug laws that make Canada's proposed changes look positively puritan. In fact, the point of Canada's decriminalization project is not to create a haven for pot puffers, and far less to encourage cultivation and trafficking - the proposed changes would double the maximum penalty for growing marijuana from seven to 14 years. Rather, the changes are designed to protect the growing number of ordinary and otherwise law-abiding Canadians who smoke marijuana occasionally from being stigmatized with a criminal record that could hamper their careers and travel mobility. This is no small matter. In 2003, 27,000 people, a quarter of them under 25 were hit with 50,246 charges of cannabis possession - double the number of charges just 10 years ago. If only half of them end up convicted, that's an awful lot of lives to stunt for a fairly innocuous offence. Canada's objectives are perfectly legitimate, and if Cellucci wants to harmonize Canadian and U.S. drug laws, maybe he should talk to New York and Alaska about toughening theirs up.