OTTAWA – PM Stephen Harper set to announce a $64-million anti-drug strategy

OTTAWA – Prime Minister Stephen Harper is set to announce a $64-million anti-drug strategy that cracks down on dealers and offers more help for users.Harper is to make the announcement Thursday in Winnipeg, casting his Conservative government’s approach as a balanced one that relies as heavily on prevention as it does on punishment. The new plan includes stricter penalties for drug-traffickers while spending millions on rehabilitation and public-awareness programs. The government wants to avoid having the plan portrayed as a Canadian version of the U.S. war on drugs. “There are two aspects to this,” said a source familiar with the announcement. “How can you help the user? And the other thing is punishing the dealer. Funding for the initiative was set out in the 2007 federal budget. The plan is expected to include: -A border crackdown on drug smuggling. -$32 million on treatments like detox and rehab centres.-About $10 million for an awareness campaign aimed at young people. One of the key goals of the awareness program is to alert kids to the dangers of marijuana and remind them that it remains illegal. Since the Conservatives took office, the number of people arrested for simple possession of marijuana has skyrocketed. Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa and Halifax all reported increases of between 20 and 50 per cent in 2006 of arrests for possession of cannabis, compared with the previous year. As a result, thousands of people were charged with a criminal offence that, under the previous Liberal government, was on the verge of being decriminalized. Police say those Liberal efforts to decriminalize pot sent mixed messages to the public. They say many pot smokers have been emboldened by the talk of decriminalization and are more apt to smoke in public – all of which has resulted in more arrests. Proponents of more liberalized drug laws have ridiculed the Tory approach to marijuana, calling it a waste of taxpayers’ money to prosecute pot smokers. Drug-dependency experts have also challenged the common notion that pot is a so-called ‘gateway’ to other drugs, and argue that it actually keeps people from experimenting with more dangerous ones.Health Minister Tony Clement, who will be one of three cabinet ministers present at the announcement, has said his government wants to clear up the uncertainty about marijuana. “There’s been a lot of mixed messages going out about illicit drugs,” Clement said recently. “We’re going to be back in the business of an anti-drug strategy. . . In that sense, the party’s over.”

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