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U.S. Fears Cda. Becoming a Major Pot Supplier

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U.S. drug czar John Walters says Ottawa's push towards decriminalizing marijuana could make Canada a major supplier of drugs, a situation he says will "complicate" efforts to secure the world's longest undefended border.


"Frankly, I'm worried about Canada beginning to look like Mexico as a major supplier of drugs into the United States," Walters told CTV's Question Period Sunday. "We want legitimate trade and movement but we cannot ignore the threats that are serious -- terror and drugs -- to become an increasing problem."


Earlier this week, a Commons committee recommended decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use, saying current penalties are inappropriate.


The Special Parliamentary Committee on the Non-medicinal Use of Drugs recommended that those caught possessing 30 grams of marijuana or less (about 1 ounce) should not be saddled with a criminal record.


Walters says the U.S. government is not concerned about Canada's domestic policies but does fear that a more relaxed attitude in Canada will "fuel the market" for marijuana. Walters says most of any increased in supply in Canada will end up in the United States.


"Whatever good or bad comes from this in Canada is indeed Canada's affair," said Walters, the director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy. "What's happening today is that the market for high-potency marijuana...the market that the RCMP has told me is approaching a $5 billion industry... 95 per cent (of it) is being shipped to the United States.


"The fact is that marijuana in Canada is particularly potent and dangerous. Those organizations the RCMP identified in B.C. are moving out across Canada, not only to move consumption in Canada but also to move it more into the United States.


"It's a dangerous phenomena and its making Canada a supply country. If you increase the market, you're going to complicate what we have to do at the border, which is already more complicated because of terror."


Walters also pointed to the economic and social costs associated with marijuana in the U.S., saying 23 per cent of the six million Americans seeking treatment for dependency on drugs are teenagers.


"More young people are appearing for treatment related to marijuana than all the other drugs combined," he said. "We can't look the other way."


Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham told Question Period he's had no official talks with U.S. authorities about the proposed changes to Canada's pot laws but expects the issue "to become an ultimate item of discussion."


"Some in the United States have said it will raise problems at the border," Graham said. "We'll see if that's true.


"I honestly in the end don't believe it will, because I think we'll do it in a way which reduces the tensions (like) the way we've handled the 30-point (border) program to date."


Walters also warned Canadians that any proliferation of marijuana will lead to an increase in organized crime.


"Some of this is being done by the Hells Angels and other organized crime families," Walters said. "These are not benign 'Cheech and Chong' drug traffickers.


"They kill people, they corrupt institutions and they are masters of criminal activity. Canada does not need to have to this criminal element and we don't need the drugs."


The all-party committee of MPs points out that in 1999, 21,000 Canadians were faced with criminal charges for simple possession of marijuana. It also noted that cannabis offences accounted for approximately three-quarters of all drug-related offences in 2001.


The Committee says it would prefer to see cannabis offences retained in the Controlled Drugs and Substance Act, but with simple possession decriminalized by designation as a "contravention."


The Canadian Medical Association has said about 1.5 million people smoke marijuana recreationally. About 600,000 Canadians have criminal records for pot possession. Those convictions should stand, the committee recommends.


Justice Minister Martin Cauchon, who has admitted to smoking marijuana in his youth, said earlier this week he's looking forward to seeing the report. He also said he wants to take steps to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana within "the first four months of next year."

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