Yesterday, (May 27, 2003) Ottawa proposed eliminating criminal penalties for simple possession of marijuana and promised a tougher line against growers and dealers.

But everyone from police to potheads to opposition politicians said the law was a downer.

Under legislation introduced by Justice Minister Martin Cauchon, possession of up to 15 grams of pot -- enough to roll about 15 or 20 joints -- would be a minor offence punishable by a fine.

Youths could face fines of up to $250 for minor possession while adults could be fined $400.

Penalties could be greater if "aggravating" factors are present, including possessiong while driving or while on school property.

By contrast, the maximum sentence for illicit growers would be boosted to 14 years in prison from the current seven. The penalty for the trafficking would stay the same, with a maximum life sentence.

Ottawa also plans to set aside an additional $245 million for law enforcement efforts and education, information, research and treatment programs aimed at curbing drug use, especially among youth.