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Drug War Briefs: The United States of Canada

This week, Washington state customs agents are looking at a record bust year, having confiscated almost two-thirds of 1 percent of the pot entering the U.S.; a major Canadian think-tank recommends legalizing marijuana; and Portuguese police will back off cannabis-smoking English soccer fans at the Euro 2004, and focus on alcohol.

June 8- BC's The Province reports: It's shaping up as a bumper year for pot busts at the border.

The amount of pot seized is up 82 per cent from last year -- from 1,020 to 1,859 kilograms confiscated between October and May, according to U.S. border patrol figures.

If the trend continues, western Washington state customs agents will seize more dope than ever before, spokesman Joseph Giuliano said yesterday.

[Ed. note: Over one million pounds of marijuana are confiscated at the US/Mexican border annually. The amount seized at the US/Canadian border, even in this "record year" represents two-thirds of 1 percent of the pot seized at the Mexican border.]

June 11- Victoria (BC) News reports: B.C.'s marijuana trade is so lucrative, it only makes sense to legalize pot, says a new report from the Fraser Institute.

The report argues that pot should also be taxed, pointing out that the pot-growing business in B.C. is worth $7 billion annually.

"It's taking place, it seems to be ubiquitous. The question is who's really going to get the revenue from this activity," said Sean Easton, a senior fellow at the institute who authored the report.

While the institute released the report, Easton stressed that the views expressed are his own and not those of the institute.

Organized crime groups in B.C. are earning the revenue from marijuana crops, he said. He compares that trade to alcohol prohibition in the U.S. in the 1920s and early 1930s.

"We've been through this before with prohibition - we all watch re-runs of The Untouchables and learn nothing," he said.

That said, the Simon Fraser University economics professor argues that marijuana should be regulated in the same way as alcohol.

Tax money from pot cannot only treat problems associated with its use, but other health concerns, Easton said.

Society seems close to accepting the idea of legalizing pot, he said. At the same time, he concedes that the U.S. will pressure the Canadian government to keep pot illegal.

June 11- The UK Guardian reports: Portuguese police officers will turn a blind eye to England supporters who openly smoke cannabis during Euro 2004, having decided that a stoned crowd is easier to control than a drunk one.

Lisbon police confirmed yesterday that England fans would not be arrested for puffing on joints on the streets of the Portuguese capital, following a recommendation from the Dutch authorities responsible for policing the English during Euro 2000.

Four years ago England's match in Eindhoven, ironically against Portugal, passed off peacefully as many supporters took advantage of the Netherlands' liberal drugs laws. By contrast the game against Germany in the Belgian town of Charleroi was marred by violence, much of it fuelled by alcohol.

Portugal has similarly relaxed legislation to the Dutch and the authorities hope it will help them police the 50,000 supporters expected to arrive in the country in the next few days.

Possession of small amounts of cannabis is not illegal in Portugal but, technically, consumption is. However, having liaised with the Dutch, police will not act except in extreme circumstances.

Isabel Canelas, a spokeswoman for the Portuguese police, said cannabis would be a low priority during the tournament. "Everyone knows that here everyone can smoke. The police are doing another kind of job and their priorities are different.

"We won't be hiding behind doors waiting for someone to smoke a joint. We have to use common sense. If people were smoking but not kicking each other, not beating each other, and not making a problem, why on earth would an officer go and ask 'Is that cannabis?'

"If you are quietly smoking and a police officer is 10 meters away, what's the big risk in your behavior? I'm not going to tap you on the shoulder and ask 'What are you smoking?' if you are posing no menace to others. Our priority is alcohol."

Organizers have not restricted the amount of alcohol on sale during the tournament despite the Football Association's concerns. Beer costs just 66p a glass and will be freely available around stadiums and at big screen locations.

Eindhoven police spokesman Johann Beelan said cannabis was a positive influence on public order at Euro 2000. "Cannabis ... was part of the conditions which meant everyone had a good time," he said.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson .