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Vancouver may urge Canada to legalize and tax marijuana JUne 8, 2005 - reuters.ca
VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Vancouver, the West Coast city whose drug-treatment programs have drawn the wrath of U.S. officials, may press the Canadian federal government to legalize and tax marijuana, officials said on Wednesday.
Regulating marijuana as a legal substance would recognize that society allows its widespread use, despite the laws, and let drug counselors use the same type of programs now in place to fight alcohol abuse and tobacco smoking, backers of the idea said.
"It would allow us to control a drug that is not presently being controlled," said Mayor Larry Campbell, a former police office and coroner, who has long advocated treatment programs as the best way to combat illegal drug use.
The recommendation that Canada's third-largest city support changes to the country's drug laws is part of a comprehensive anti-drug strategy report released on Wednesday. The city's council will consider the plan over next several months.
Parliament is reviewing legislation to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, while toughening penalties for growing or selling the drug. Possession of small amounts would be punished with a fine.
Campbell said Ottawa's plan will not curb illegal drug-trafficking, and sends a conflicting message that it is okay to use marijuana, but not buy or grow it for home use.
Vancouver was the first North American city to have a government-sanctioned injection site for addicts, a program begun in 2003 to fight long-standing drug problems in its gritty Downtown Eastside neighborhood.
The city's treatment program and the federal government's marijuana decriminalization proposal have been criticized by U.S. drug officials as examples of Canada becoming lax in the battle against illegal drugs.
A Royal Canadian Mounted Police anti-drug official quickly condemned Vancouver's legalization plan. "I'm not sure how legalizing it is going to make people use it less," Staff Sgt. Chuck Doucette told a radio interviewer.
Vancouver, with a population of about 2 million in its greater metropolitan area, already has a reputation for taking a more easy-going attitude toward marijuana use than the rest of Canada. A handful of cafes in Vancouver cater to pot smokers even though the drug remains illegal.
Marijuana-growing is a major illegal industry in British Columbia, with reports estimating it has a more than C$2 billion ($1.6 billion) annual impact on the province's economy. Much of the potent "B.C. Bud" produced in the Pacific Coast province is smuggled into the United States.