April 3, 2006

Canada Scraps Plan to Decriminalize Marijuana Use

OTTAWA -- Canada's new Conservative government will scrap draft legislation which would have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Monday.

The legislation, drawn up by the previous Liberal government, alarmed police officials in Canada and the neighboring United States who said it would only encourage the already booming trade in pot.

Once the Liberals lost the January 23 election after 12 years in power, the bill looked to be in deep trouble. One of Harper's five priorities is to clamp down on crime.

"We will not be reintroducing the Liberal government's marijuana decriminalization legislation," he told a meeting of the Canadian Professional Police Association.

"I thought we might find a receptive audience here," he told his audience after winning a round of applause.

Under the Liberal bill, people found with small amounts of marijuana would have been fined but would not have received a criminal record.

Canadian police complain that judges often hand down lenient sentences on people found guilty of running operations to grow marijuana illegally.

Estimates for the value of Canada's booming pot business trade vary widely and some experts say it is worth C$10 billion ($8.5 billion) a year. The main center is the Pacific province of British Columbia, where criminals export potent marijuana, known as BC Bud, to the United States.

($1=$1.18 Canadian)