Mon, Mar 07, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Marijuana debate rages

CANADA The Liberal Party met to hash out how to proceed with its proposed pot decriminalization law after four Mounties were killed during a grow-op raid

AP , TORONTO

An RCMP tactical officer, with his weapon drawn, talks to an unidentified man after he approached the Roszko farm near Rochfort Bridge, Alberta, Saturday.

PHOTO: AP

The slayings of four Mounties during a raid has added new controversy to the debate about whether Canada should decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Canada's ruling Liberal party debated its proposed law at a policy convention in Ottawa on Saturday, two days after the deadliest attack on Canadian police officers in 120 years.

The four Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers were killed at an Alberta farm where there was a small marijuana growing operation. The slayings triggered a national debate over the Liberal's proposed law and whether it goes far enough to discourage grow operations while decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Under the bill, getting caught with 15 grams -- about half an ounce -- or less of marijuana would bring a citation akin to a traffic ticket, not a criminal record.

While possession of marijuana would remain illegal, the bill is intended to prevent young people from being saddled with a lifelong criminal record.

At the same time, the maximum sentence for illegal growers would be increased to 14 years in prison from the current seven, while trafficking would remain punishable by up to life in prison.

Almost 600 Liberal convention delegates at a justice workshop endorsed nonbinding resolutions that would alter the proposed bill. They simultaneously endorsed resolutions that would see pot legalized, taxed and federally regulated -- while also voting to impose mandatory minimum sentences on convicted grow operators.

But neither resolution was debated by the full convention plenary of about 2,500 delegates, meaning neither will become official party policy this weekend.

Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler also said he didn't think a minimum sentence would serve as a deterrent. On Thursday, Cotler said changes to the proposed law would be considered.

The mother of Brock Myrol, one of officers killed, urged Canada's Prime Minister to get tougher on marijuana laws.

"Prime Minister Paul Martin, we depend on you and we expect you to change the laws and give the courts real power," Colleen Myrol said outside her home in Red Deer, Alberta. "Give the power back to the police."

Tony Cannavino, president of the Canadian Professional Police Association, said the proposed legislation needs to include a two-year minimum sentence to serve as deterrent.

Garth Goodhew, a delegate at the convention, warned that the proposed law might be considered in bad taste so soon after the slayings.

"Four young Canadians were killed two days ago." Goodhew shouted.

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