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From: Bruce Mirken
Sent: Thursday, October 09, 2003 4:42 PM
Subject: Fwd: Wash. Post: Canada Headed 'Wrong Way' on Illegal Drugs-Walters

Dear Mr. Doherty,

The Reuters story below, apparently filed this afternoon, is a disturbing example of journalistic carelessness. The piece reports numerous obviously false and misleading statements, with no apparent effort to obtain a contrasting view -- views which could have easily been obtained with a single phone call to us or any number of other organizations. To be specific:

1) Canadian marijuana is not "the center of the drug problem in the United States." The Justice Department's 2003 Drug Threat Assessment estimates Mexican marijuana production at roughly 9 times the level of Canada's, and acknowledges that much Canadian marijuana is for domestic Canadian consumption. U.S. production appears to be even greater than Mexico's.

2) Marijuana is not "poison." It is in fact one of very few drugs that has never caused a fatal overdose, and marijuana use is not associated with an increased risk of death. Please see -- among many other possible citations -- the editorial, "Comparing cannabis with tobacco -- again" by Stephen Sidney, M.D., in the Sept. 20, 2003 British Medical Journal.

3) 3 out of 5 U.S. teens in drug treatment are in treatment for marijuana not because they were addicted, but because they were ARRESTED. See "Treatment referral sources for adolescent marijuana users," The DASIS Report, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, March 29, 2002.

Of course I don't expect your reporter to know these things. But -- as a recovering journalist myself -- I do believe journalists have a responsibility to do more than simply transcribe what is said to them without question and without bothering to check with knowledgeable representatives of contrasting views. If the Drug Czar told the Center for Strategic International Studies that the earth is flat, wouldn't someone at Reuters consider it their journalistic duty to point out that such an assertion is at best unproven? Surely statements about the life-and-death issue of drug policy deserve serious and fair scrutiny, whichever side of the debate they come from.

I am happy to assist anytime you or your colleagues need comments or information having to do with any aspect of marijuana laws or policy.

Bruce Mirken

-- Bruce Mirken, Director of Communications
-- Marijuana Policy Project
-- P.O. Box 77492 -- Capitol Hill -- Washington, D.C. 20013
-- -- Bruce.Mirken@MPP.ORG
-- phone 415-668-6403 (office) 202-215-4205 (cell)


Thursday, October 9, 2003

Federal government may toughen marijuana bill to appease critics

Canadian Press

OTTAWA (CP) - The Liberal government sent cautious signals Thursday that it may agree to toughen some provisions of its marijuana decriminalization bill in response to domestic critics.

But Justice Minister Martin Cauchon stood fast against harsher attacks from south of the border, rejecting claims by John Walters, the U.S. drug czar, that Canada's approach is out of step with the rest of the hemisphere.

The double-barrelled message came as the Liberals moved to fast-track legislation that would eliminate the threat of jail terms and criminal records for anyone in possession of 15 grams or less of pot.

"The government is listening and willing to consider amendments to ensure we get it right," Cauchon told the House of Commons.

He did not elaborate, but senior sources say the justice minister is prepared to look at lowering the possession limit to 10 grams, in the hope of winning over dissident Liberal backbenchers and some provincial justice ministers who have been critical of the bill.

He is also reportedly willing to consider tougher penalties for repeat offenders and minimum mandatory prison terms for people involved in marijuana grow operations.

Cauchon bristled, however, when Walters delivered a speech in Washington describing Canada as "the once place in the hemisphere where things are going the wrong way."

The White House director of drug policy has previously suggested decriminalization of pot could cause problems at the U.S. border, as American customs officers step up their searches of tourists and commercial traffic.

"He should maybe look in his own backyard," Cauchon retorted, noting that more than 10 U.S. states have eliminated criminal penalties for simple possession of marijuana.

"If it's not correct to move in that direction, maybe he should start spending some time talking to his own states."

Canada Headed 'Wrong Way' on Illegal Drugs-Walters
Thursday, October 9, 2003; 2:07 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - John Walters, the White House's top drug policymaker, said on Thursday Canada was a blemish in an otherwise successful effort by the United States to cut back illegal drug production in the Western Hemisphere.

"It is the one place in the hemisphere where things are going the wrong way," said Walters, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. He has been an outspoken critic of a proposed Canadian law to ease penalties on marijuana possession.

Speaking before at Washington think tank, the Center for Strategic International Studies, Walters said Canadians who have privately expressed their concerns with the policies of Prime Minister Jean Chretien should stand up and make their objections public.

Walters' comments came just as Parliament was beginning debate on a bill introduced by the Chretien government that would end criminal penalties for possession of 15 grams, about half an ounce, of marijuana.

Walters said Canadian laws were too soft on traffickers and that marijuana shipments south were booming.

"It's their domestic policy in a sovereign country, it's their business," he said. "Shipping poison to the United States is our business."

Walters has previously warned that this law could force a clampdown at the U.S. border, potentially jeopardizing the valuable U.S.-Canadian trading relationship.

The United States is funding a multibillion dollar effort to cut cocaine and heroin shipments from Latin America, mainly by aggressively spraying coca and poppy crops. Mexico has also stepped up its efforts to stop illegal drug trafficking gangs, garnering praise from the White House.

"We're not kidding about this. This is not some kind of culture war with Canada, Walters said. "This is about the center of the drug problem in the United States."

He said marijuana had become a major problem for young Americans, noting that three out of five treatments for illegal drugs in the United States are for marijuana dependency.

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