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Canada Chrétien jokes about trying pot once it's decriminalized

It's an unlikely retirement scenario for Prime Minister Jean Chrétien: he's at his lakeside cottage, sipping tea with his wife Aline - and smoking a big fat joint.

The 69-year-old prime minister has never smoked marijuana, he says, but he joked in an interview this week he might be willing to give it a try once it's decriminalized.

Mr. Chrétien made the joke in an Ottawa interview with the Winnipeg Free Press published in Friday's paper.

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Mr. Chrétien was asked how it felt to have bills for decriminalizing marijuana and legalizing same-sex marriages as the exclamation points to his lengthy political career.

"I don't know what is marijuana," Mr. Chrétien replied.

"Perhaps I will try it when it will no longer be criminal. I will have my money for my fine and a joint in the other hand."

On a more serious note, he defended his government's marijuana bill, which he is trying to pass this fall in what is expected to be his last parliamentary session.

He said replacing criminal sentences with simple fines is a more realistic way of punishing marijuana users.

"The decriminalization of marijuana is making normal what is the practice," Mr. Chrétien said.

"It is still illegal, but do you think Canadians want their kids, 18 years old or 17, who smoke marijuana once and get caught by the police, to have a criminal record for the rest of their life?

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"What has happened is so illogical that they are not prosecuted anymore. So let's make the law adjust to the realities. It is still illegal, but they will pay a fine. It is in synch with the times.

On same-sex marriage, Mr. Chrétien said he thinks it is better to err on the side of giving more rights than taking away rights. But he didn't want to talk about whether that view has caused him problems as a Catholic.

"My grandfather had been refused holy communion because he was a Liberal organizer," he said. "For us, my mentality, my religion belongs to me and I will deal personally with that. I am a public person in a very diverse society, and I don't think I can impose every limit of my morality on others, because I don't want others to impose their morality on me."

Opposition Leader Stephen Harper has been a harsh critic of the Liberal government's pot decriminalization bill.

He said it's hard to tell if Mr. Chrétien is kidding with his remark about marijuana.

He said the person who really should be asked for his opinion on pot is Paul Martin, who will be the next prime minister.

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