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OTTAWA - The federal government has delayed its plans to introduce legislation that would decriminalize possession of small quantities of marijuana.
"I have made it very plain that until we are able to effectively deal with illegally (grown marijuana) in this country, we have a major, major problem," Health Minister Anne McLellan said Wednesday. The new approach to marijuana is supposed to increase penalties for growers and traffickers.
McLellan ? who sounded more like she was back in her old Justice portfolio ? said she sympathized with police who claim they don't have the resources to target growing operations.
The same point was made to Justice Minister Martin Cauchon by U.S. authorities Tuesday after he flew down to brief them on the generalities of the coming legislation.
Cauchon told reporters after question period that delaying the legislation has nothing to do with U.S. concerns, adding he thinks the policy change is a good one.
Cauchon wants to make possession of less than 15 grams of marijuana a non-criminal offence punishable by a $100 fine.
There is also supposed to be a new anti-drug strategy coming out of Health Canada. Reports suggest it will cost $200 million over five years.
Details on how that money will be spent haven't been released, but it's thought some will go to policing and border security, and some to health programs.
McLellan claimed that in U.S. states that have decriminalized marijuana possession there's been a spike in usage of the drug.
"And certainly one has to be ready to deal with that spike," she said.
"It can lead to addiction and all sorts of situations in local communities. We have to be ready with information, with education and with treatment."
Government officials say the new legislation, which was expected this week, will now be introduced some time before Parliament's summer break.