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Blowing smoke
Written by Darren Davidson,NELSON DAILY NEWS   
Thursday, 29 May 2003
City's top cop and local marijuana advocate say fed's new bud bill is political and weak Image

(Photo Caption:THE BONG SHOW. Paul DeFelice, the 45-year-old owner of the Holy Smoke Culture Shop, takes a puff before bashing Ottawa's attempt to lighten up on tokers. DeFelice says new legislation announced this week is an attempt to sell Canadians on a more lenient approach to the illegal drug, while appeasing U.S. demands to crack down on the growing and dealing trade. - DARREN DAVIDSON PHOTO)

Nelson police and pot puffers alike suggest the federal government's move to decriminalize minor marijuana possession is more smoke and mirrors than anything else.

"It's pretty hard to get excited or happy about the legislation," says local marijuana advocate Paul DeFelice, chuffing on a less-than-celebratory bong of bud. The 45-year-old owner of the Holy Smoke Culture Shop says the legislation will only make it easier for police to hassle casual smokers, small-time growers and dealers, while opening the door for organized crime and doing little to unclog courts choked with minor possession charges.

The city's top cop has got nothing good to say about Ottawa's move either. Nelson City Police Chief Dan Maluta says the new scheme - which would enable police to write tickets for possession of 15 grams of weed or less - has major logistic and bureaucratic hurdles to clear in B.C.. Maluta's also burned that Ottawa politicians are pushing for legalization just as the Federal Department of Justice is in the Supreme Court fighting to prove that marijuana is a harmful substance.

(see 'Canada' page 3)

Canada bending to U.S. says DeFelice

(continued from page 1)

"I find that an irreconciable contradiction," says Maluta. "The right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing."

Both Maluta and DeFelice feel that more than anything, the fed's move is simply an effort to appease the sternly anti-pot U.S. federal government.

"It's overshadowed by U.S. politics definitely, between the U.S. and Canada," says Maluta.

"We're totally bending to the Americans' will," DeFelice adds.

"It seems like a backwards way to please the States. They want to make it sound to the Canadian people like they're getting more lenient, but show the Americans they're actually cracking down."

The Liberal government moved Tuesday to eliminate criminal penalties for simple possession of marijuana.

Under legislation introduced by Justice Minister Martin Cauchon, possession of up to 15 grams of pot - enough to roll about 15 or 20 joints - would be a minor offence that carries no criminal record.

Violators would be ticketed and ordered to pay fines ranging from $100 to $250 for youths, and from $150 to $400 for adults.

People caught with between 15 and 30 grams could get the same treatment if they're lucky. But they could also, at the discretion of police, be charged in criminal court and face up to six months in jail.

DeFelice, who used to smoke as many as 20 joints a day but is now down to "five or six," says the ticketing system isn't going to make toking any easier for casual bud connoisseurs, who will likely do their best to make things tough on police and the court system.

"I think we're going to see a lot more people getting ticketed than we saw charged under the old law."

DeFelice predicts that people are going to smoke pot, get ticketed, then challenge their tickets in court.

"Especially when the fine is up around $400, it's worth your while to contest it."

"Already a bunch of us are talking about who can get the most tickets, file first tickets and who gets to fight it first," he says.

Maluta says unless Ottawa is planning to undo current possession charge investigation requirements, there'll be no costs savings to taxpayers. Under present law, police need lab results for possession cases that scientifically prove seized evidence is in fact marijuana. The analysis certificate then has to be served to the accused suspect. The process is expensive and time consuming.

"If they're envisioning still doing that, where are the savings?," Maluta asks.

"It's saved us virtually nothing. You haven't created any efficiencies whatsoever."

The chief also notes that there are major difficulties in getting the ticketing policy in place. The province has yet to sign on to the federal legal act that would enable B.C. cops to start issuing tickets under the new law.

"It's a big technicality," says Maluta.

While the bill would ease up on smalltime users, there would be no respite for illicit growers and dealers. The maximum sentence for grow operations would be 14 years in prison, up from the current seven, with the length of term increasing in proportion to the amount grown.

The penalty for trafficking would remain unchanged - a maximum life sentence, although in practice the toughest terms handed out in recent years have been about 20 years for major dealers.

DeFelice says the tough line will chase away mom and pop growers and dealers, and open the door for organized crime.

"The hard-core, serious criminals are going to charge more and protect (their business) with more violence," he says adding that Ottawa should legalize cultivation. "So at least people can grow their own, their own way and be in their house and not bother anybody."

Maluta thinks it will be at least the end of the year before the ticketing system is in place.

Last Updated ( Friday, 18 November 2005 )
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