Thursday, August 11, 2005

Crystal meth pushers will face life sentences

Vancover Sun

Crackdown comes as meth use rises: New law also targets chemicals used to make 'poor man's heroin'

OTTAWA -- The federal government will announce today it is increasing the maximum jail term for production, trafficking, importing or exporting methamphetamine -- commonly known as crystal meth or the "poor man's cocaine" -- from 10 years to life in prison.

The federal crackdown, which puts crystal meth on the same legal playing field as cocaine and heroin, comes as provincial premiers gather in Banff, Alta., for their annual conference that will include discussion about the growing popularity of the inexpensive and easily accessed drug.

The announcement will be made today by Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh, Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, and Public Security Minister Anne McLellan, The Vancouver Sun has learned.

Dosanjh, whose department administers the Controlled Drug and Substances Act, announced in June that he was seeking recommendations from senior government officials by this fall on whether Ottawa should stiffen penalties for crystal meth producers and traffickers.

But Dosanjh is expected to say today that clear evidence has emerged about the growing harm caused by meth users, particularly in Western Canada, to justify immediate action.

The federal government also revealed in June its intention to add four chemicals now used to make crystal meth to the government's Precursor Control Regulations.

When the regulations go into effect later this year, those involved in the production or distribution of those chemicals will be subjected to licensing and permitting requirements.
Conviction for possession of these "precursor" chemicals for the purpose of making an illegal drug like crystal meth will then result in a fine of up to $5,000, a jail term of up to three years, or both.

Provincial premiers and ministers from Western Canada have been putting pressure on Ottawa since the April 2005 release of a panel report summarizing findings from a November 2004 summit in Vancouver.

That Vancouver gathering included federal, provincial and municipal politicians from across Western Canada, as well as police, meth users, health care and social service providers, school district officials, and parent advocacy groups.

"It is not clear that the legislative framework properly reflects the dangers to society from the production and distribution" of Methamphetamine (MA), the report concluded.

The study concluded that while there is no actual crisis, MA use is rising and its popularity is gradually extending from Western Canada eastward.

"There is a low prevalence of MA use among the general population in Canada, but there is an increase in MA use among street-involved youth, gay men, (and) young adults in the club scene."

MA is a synthetic drug that can be snorted, smoked, injected, or swallowed, and can cost a user only $5 a day, according to the report.

The drug causes a sense of "euphoria, openness and intellectual expansion," and, while similar to cocaine, is metabolized more slowly and its effects can therefore last up to 24 hours. It can also trigger nervousness and depression and is believed to lead to violent behaviour in some circumstances.

"MA appeals to intravenous drug users and party drug users, as well as to students, athletes, waiters, long-distance drivers, software programmers and others who wish to stay awake for extended periods and sustain their ability to perform," the report states.

"MA can also heighten sexual experience, encourage weight loss, and support a hip, anti-social image among some users."

Crystal meth is highly addictive and its users often engage in binges in which they ingest large quantities of the drug over several days or weeks. Chronic users often suffer sleep deprivation, poor nutrition and bad teeth.

The drug is becoming popular with organized crime groups and is far easier to produce than marijuana.


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