Sunday, November 11, 2012

Harper toughens pot laws, two states legalize

The Canadian Press:

Ottawa - The same day that voters in two U.S. states approved the legalization of marijuana, the Harper government in Ottawa was bringing into force tough new mandatory penalties for pot.

The states of Washington and Colorado both voted in favour of ballot-box propositions Tuesday that remove criminal penalties for the possession and sale of recreational marijuana, while a similar provision in Oregon was defeated.

Tuesday was also the day that drug measures in the Conservative government’s omnibus Safe Streets and Communities Act, passed last spring, came into full force.

Canada’s new law provides a mandatory six-month jail term for growing as few as six marijuana plants, twice the mandatory minimum for luring a child to watch pornography or exposing oneself on a playground.

“Today our message is clear that if you are in the business of producing, importing or exporting of drugs, you’ll now face jail time,” Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said in a release Tuesday, before U.S. polls closed.

By day’s end, Colorado had voted to permit adults over 21 to grow up to six pot plants in private, and Washington had voted to permit state-licensed growers to sell adult individuals up to an ounce of marijuana at a time.

Nicholson was not available Wednesday to comment on the American state votes but his spokeswoman reiterated in an email that “our government does not support the decriminalization or the legalization of marijuana.”

Contrast that with Geoff Plant, a former British Columbia attorney general who supports the Stop the Violence BC coalition that is campaigning for legal changes.

“The take-away for politicians is to realize voters on both sides of the border are increasingly wanting this change, and that should make politicians both nervous about what will happen if they don’t listen to voters and also less nervous about the risk associated with change,” said Plant.

In Mexico City, Luis Videgaray, the main adviser to Mexico’s president-elect Enrique Pena Nieto, said the Washington and Colorado votes will force the Mexican government to rethink its efforts on halting marijuana smuggling across the border.

And Sean McAllister, a former assistant attorney general in Colorado, told Britain’s Guardian newspaper Wednesday that “I really think this is the beginning of the end for marijuana prohibition, not only in the U.S., but in many countries across the world, including the U.K. We didn’t just legalize it, we created a regulatory system.”

Eugene Oscapella, who teaches drug policy and criminology at the University of Ottawa, said one of the biggest impacts of Tuesday’s state legalization votes may be on Canadian perceptions.

He noted 14 states have decriminalized pot, plus two that have now legalized.

“People have begun increasingly to realize the current system, the use of the criminal law, imports terrible, terrible collateral harms — and it doesn’t stop people from using drugs,” Oscapella said.

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