OTTAWA - The Conservative government is seriously considering looser marijuana laws that would allow police to ticket anyone caught with small amounts of pot instead of laying charges, Justice Minister Peter MacKay said Wednesday.
"We're not talking about decriminalization or legalization," MacKay said prior to the weekly Conservative caucus meeting on Parliament Hill.
"The Criminal Code would still be available to police, but we would look at options that would ... allow police to ticket those types of offences."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is open to such an approach, he added.
The justice minister has hinted in the past that such a move was under consideration. The country's police chiefs —as well as some Tory caucus members, MacKay says — have long called for ticketing people for pot possession instead of laying criminal charges.
But MacKay has also been among the Conservatives' fiercest critics of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's stance on the issue. Trudeau supports the legalization of marijuana, a position the Tories have mocked with gleeful abandon.
MacKay accused the Liberal leader of promoting drug use to elementary schoolchildren last fall after Trudeau answered a question about his marijuana policies from First Nations high school students in Sioux Valley, Man. There were elementary school kids in the audience at the time.
"Justin Trudeau's comments to elementary school children regarding the legalization of marijuana is not only bad policy, but is completely unacceptable and grossly inappropriate," MacKay said in a statement at the time.
"He's directly delivering a message to children now that recreational drug use is OK."
Trudeau responded by saying that marijuana was dangerous for young people, because their minds are still developing, but added he believes regulating pot will make it safer for children.
The Liberal leader called on MacKay to retract the comments, calling them "shameful."
Under the Criminal Code as it now stands, anyone convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana can be jailed for up to five years. First-time offenders can face fines of up to $1,000 or as much as six months in jail.
The Justice Department is looking into the issue and may present a draft bill that would reflect the change in policy, MacKay said. He made the announcement following a weekend meeting with Vancouver's police chief, who supports the approach.
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