VANCOUVER, British Columbia, June 8 (Reuters) - Vancouver, the West Coast Canadian city whose drug-treatment programs have drawn the wrath of U.S. officials, may press the federal government to legalize and tax marijuana, according to a published report on Wednesday.
Regulating marijuana as a legal substance would allow drug counselors to use the same types of programs now in place to fight alcohol abuse and tobacco smoking, according to a city proposal quoted by the Vancouver Sun.
The recommendation that Canada's third-largest city support changes to the country's drug laws is part of a comprehensive anti-drug strategy report scheduled to be released by Vancouver on Wednesday.
Parliament is reviewing legislation to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, while toughening penalties for growing the drug. Possession of small amounts would be punished with a fine.
Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell, a former police officer, said the decriminalization plan does not address the issue of how to curb illegal drug-trafficking, and sends a mixed message to marijuana users.
"It sends a message that it is okay, but that it's a crime to obtain it," Campbell told the newspaper, adding that the city's suggestion was "a talking point, but clearly it's something that has to be done in Canada."
Campbell was elected in 2002 promising to address long-standing drug problems in Vancouver's gritty Downtown Eastside neighborhood, and the city in 2003 opened North America's first government-sanctioned injection site for addicts.
Vancouver's treatment program and the federal government's marijuana decriminalization proposal have been criticized by U.S. drug officials as examples of Canada becoming lax in the battle against illegal drugs.
Vancouver, with a population of about 2 million in its greater metropolitan area, already has a reputation of taking a more easy-going attitude toward marijuana use than the rest of Canada. A handful of cafes in Vancouver cater to pot smokers even though the drug remains illegal.
Marijuana-growing is a major illegal industry in British Columbia, with reports estimating it has a more than C$2 billion ($1.6 billion) annual impact on the province's economy. Much of the potent "B.C. Bud" produced in the Pacific Coast province is smuggled into the United States.