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Liberals prepared to allow marijuana bill to die


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from The Globe & Mail:

Ottawa — The federal election will kill the bill to decriminalize marijuana, leaving one of Jean Chrétien's legacy issues out in the cold and pot smokers still facing potential jail terms, government insiders say.

The controversial legislation, which is awaiting a final vote in the House of Commons, will not make it through Parliament in the one week left in the session before Prime Minister Paul Martin is expected to drop the writ to begin an election campaign.

The proposed law, Bill C-10, would have removed jail terms for the simple possession of less than 15 grams of marijuana. Those caught with pot in that quantity would have faced the equivalent of a traffic ticket, costing $100 to $500.

The opposition Conservatives, who opposed the bill, insisted that the Liberals effectively killed the bill by treating it with deliberate neglect. It was repeatedly placed at or near the bottom of the list of bills to be debated, dragging out its progress through the Commons.

"They don't want to get into the issue of drugs, because it's a loser for them in an election," said MP Randy White, the Conservative Party's critic on drug policy.

"I think their polling is probably telling them the same thing our polling is showing — that it's a loser with families."

The bill is awaiting third reading in the Commons — the final vote that would allow it to pass the House. But even if that vote is held next week, it is not going to pass the Senate in a week. Bills to implement the budget and to reduce patent restrictions on AIDS drugs for Africa are the highest priorities, government officials said.

Parliament will sit next week, but a break is scheduled for the week after — when the Prime Minister is expected to launch an election campaign.

Mr. Martin is widely expected to call an election for June 28, which means he would drop the writ between May 17 and 23 — possibly on May 20, before the Victoria Day long weekend.

It means that the decriminalization of marijuana, first debated in the 1970s and proposed as law last year, will be left for a new Parliament to start all over again.

A federal election dissolves the Parliament and kills all the bills that have not been passed; the next government would have to start anew from introduction in the Commons.

Advocates of the bill argued that young people should not face lifelong criminal records for smoking a joint. The Justice Department estimates that 100,000 Canadians smoke pot daily.

The bill had faced criticism from the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, which suggested the bill would require tougher border policing, and from the RCMP, who said decriminalizing marijuana possession would make it harder to police serious drug crimes. Pro-cannabis activists say the government should go farther and legalize marijuana.

Mr. White said the government ignored the need for a real national drug strategy, which would include tougher penalties for so-called grow-ops, in which large quantities of marijuana are grown, and funds for local education. The Liberals merely tried to distract from the need for a broad drug strategy, he said.

Mr. White said that if elected, the Conservatives would not introduce a decriminalization bill.

"The issue is not decriminalization. The issue is, what do we do with drugs of all sorts?" Mr. White said.

Liberal government officials said the opposition slowed the progress of the bill, but Conservative House Leader John Reynolds laughed off that suggestion.

"There's nothing holding them up," Mr. Reynolds said. "They've got a majority."

The bill was introduced when Mr. Chrétien was in office, and Mr. Martin revived it this year.

Mr. Martin suggested publicly that he thought the bill should be toughened, but that amendments would be left up to MPs. Instead, it languished.

The Martin government's legislative agenda has remained relatively light.

Mr. Martin had planned for a short session of Parliament before calling an April election but pushed back the vote after Auditor-General Sheila Fraser issued a report in February on the sponsorship program, which has become a scandal.

Among the bills that will die are the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, also known as the whistle-blower bill, which is supposed to protect civil servants who report impropriety or malfeasance within the government.

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No one is actually surprised by this are they? ::

Paul Martin's "bend over and get out the KY" strategy regarding Beelzebub and his unholy tribe of followers to the south has ensured from the start that this Bill had no hope of passing. It was a nice dream though. LOL.

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