you can just imagine the looksof horror and disbelief in Washington last month when a wave of Canadian politicians, doctors, police chiefs and the Mounties came out in favour of decriminalizing pot.
"My god, what are they smoking up there?!" someone must have asked. "George, we've got to go and kick some sorry, mind-altered Canadian ass! A sovereign country, you say? And your point is?"
Indeed, the decriminalization scenario faces one major, possibly fatal, obstacle: the fanatical opposition of the powerful U.S. "drug war' lobby.
The pro-pot cavalcade got rolling in mid-May, when the Canadian Medical Association Journal endorsed decriminalization. And it got a further boost from Tory leader Joe Clark and officials of the RCMP and Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. Finally, all five parties in the House of Commons voted unanimously to strike a committee to study narcotics policy, including the decriminalization of pot.
Now, several former and active-duty U.S. and Canadian law-enforcement officers tell NOW that U.S. officials are sure to be plotting a massive behind-the-scenes campaign to kill the idea before the debate even gets off the ground.
"There are very powerful vested interests that make lots of money because marijuana is illegal. It's an empire,' says Michael Levine, a retired 25-year veteran of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
"You watch the power play as Canada starts to seriously consider this. They'll be planting stories, putting out misleading statistics, the whole damn thing. They're fighting for the perception of the public,' he says.
Levine, one of the most highly decorated officers in DEA history, now teaches undercover tactics and informer handling to U.S. and Canadian police departments, including the RCMP. He says that what scares U.S. authorities isn't the possibility of more pot use, but that all the scare-mongering about toking will be proven untrue.
Thirty-year DEA veteran Benny Mangor, who spent six years as the agency's attaché in Canada, says the power play is probably underway even now, before the House of Commons committee holds its first meeting.
"I'm sure it is being brought up at different levels, not only by law enforcement but also at the diplomatic level, because this is a situation that might significantly affect our border relationship. I would suggest it already is (being discussed between the two governments). I think you're going to hear some opinionated views on this,' he says.
Mangor, now a private investigator in Buffalo, New York, says U.S. authorities will likely unleash a dizzying vortex of pressure tactics, including backroom arm-twisting and cracking down on cross-border traffic.
"The concerns could be expressed in a number of ways -- through diplomacy, through the embassy, through law enforcement and elected officials. There would also be (U.S.) civic organizations that would be opposed to that. There could be an increase of personnel at the border, more scrutiny of people arriving, also of movement of goods by land, mail and sea,' he says.
Another possible pressure tactic, according to Mangor: the U.S. State Department could put Canada on its annual "majors' list of countries deemed to be major sources of drugs for the U.S., like Afghanistan and Colombia. Inclusion on the list would have a mostly symbolic impact on Canada. Listed countries can be denied U.S. financial aid and emergency loans from U.S.-backed aid agencies, monies not sought by Canada.
Still, U.S. officials caused a furor in 1999 when they leaked word that the they had considered adding Canada to the majors list because of booming pot exports to the U.S. and supposedly lax narcotics laws.
Officials in Washington tell NOW they strongly disapprove of the decriminalization of pot in Canada, but they refuse to say what consequences it would have. "It's not a policy we encourage. We don't think it's wise,' says a State Department drug policy official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The official says Canada already meets U.S. criteria for inclusion on the majors list because it's a major narcotics exporter. "It's a sensitive issue. We know Canada is a major producer.'
A White House drug policy spokesperson who also asked to go unnamed says being put on the majors list could mean anything from disrupted trade to economic sanctions. But she adds, "I can't foresee Canada having something so extreme that it would lead to decertification.'
Some do think, however, that Canadian decriminalization could effectively end negotiations over facilitating quick border-crossings for trucks -- one of the much-anticipated effects of NAFTA. "It would affect future efforts to make the border less intrusive,' says Michael Hart, a professor at Carleton who helped negotiate the pact.
Canadian police officers agree that the U.S. will try to fight decriminalization, but they say Canada can make up its own mind. "They're pretty powerful, like it or not,' says a senior RCMP official who also asked not to be named. "Before we get there (to decriminalization), there would be a lot of lobbying (from the U.S.). But I think if Canada has evidence that it wouldn't be a bad thing, we should do it -- end of story.'
This officer says he'd personally support decriminalization of small amounts of pot it its use isn't associated with health risks.