Drug policy in Canada, particularly as it pertains to marijuana, is stuck in a sort of legal no-man’s-land. Politicians want to appear tough on crime, but at the same time are loath to make criminals out of the hundreds of thousands of Canadians — perhaps as many one or two million — who are casual tokers. They tiptoe up to the precipice of decriminalization, always to scurry back at the last minute for fear of offending the United States, or the many domestic voters who oppose more liberal marijuana laws.
At best, our leaders can only ever summon the courage for a de facto decriminalization: Keep personal pot possession nominally illegal, but instruct Crown prosecutors not to prosecute most offenders. The irony is: This gutless approach undermines the rule of law more assuredly than decriminalization or full legalization ever could. Nowhere has this truth been more evident than in the two-year-long efforts by American drug police to extradite Marc Emery, entrepreneur, leader of the B.C. Marijuana Party and the West Coast’s self-styled “Prince of Pot.” For years, the government has looked the other way as Mr. Emery has become a millionaire many times over. But even as he has remained a free man in Canada, Ottawa has felt pressured by Washington to crack down on Mr. Emery for alleged breach of U.S. drug laws (Americans complain that his mail-order business has sold seeds to U.S. buyers.) The result of this application of War on Drugs heavy-handedness by remote control has been a diminution of our national sovereignty and a blow to Canada’s own rule of law.
On Monday it was announced Mr. Emery had struck a deal with U.S. prosecutors. To avoid extradition, he will serve a five-year sentence for selling marijuana seeds by mail. He will do his time here, rather than stateside, but will be ineligible for the early release to which all other Canadian criminals generally are entitled. He will have to do his full time behind bars, no parole, no halfway houses, no statutory release. As Mr. Emery told the Vancouver Sun, “I’m going to do more time than many violent, repeat offenders.” And indeed he is. In a report on Canada’s federal prisons, sent to Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day last month, it was revealed that most offenders — even those convicted of assault, armed robbery and rape — spend less than three years behind bars.
This is a travesty for a man who, as he correctly states, “has no victims.” But it is also a travesty for Canadian justice. We arrested Mr. Emery, a Canadian citizen, for crimes he allegedly committed in the United States, even though he had not been in the United States, was not fleeing American authorities, has not inflicted any action upon an American to which the latter did not consent, and Canada refused to prosecute him for the very same crimes here. If Ottawa felt strongly enough about the pot-seed catalogue saleman’s misdeeds, it should have prosecuted him itself. Otherwise, it should have refused American requests to cooperate with the extradition application.
By no less an authority than the Supreme Court of Canada, our government will not extradite Canadians suspected of committing murder in the United States, unless American prosecutors promise in advance not to seek the death penalty, which is banned here, but not there. Why then would we even consider arresting a Canadian and prosecute him at the behest of U.S. authorities for a crime we routinely ignore here? The last time Mr. Emery was convicted of selling seeds here was a decade ago, at which time he received a $2,000 fine. Since then, Canadian prosecutors have refused to lay charges against him. Indeed, when it failed on its own to grow medical marijuana for terminal patients, Health Canada even directed Canadians with permits to Mr. Emery’s mail order business.
Permitting Marc Emery to cut a deal with U.S. prosecutors is one of those cowardly half-measure that have come to symbolize Canadian drug policy. If Ottawa wants Canadians to respect the law, it either has to enforce it as written or — as we would prefer — change what is written to conform to the prevailing social norms. Our current neither-fish-nor-fowl stand makes a mockery of our criminal justice system.
– Editorial from the National Post, January 15, 2008
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