Canada’s justice minister says people who sell or grow marijuana belong in jail because pot is used as a “currency” to bring harder drugs into the country.
“This lubricates the business and that makes me nervous,” Rob Nicholson told the Commons justice committee Wednesday as he faced tough questions about a controversial bill to impose automatic jail and prison sentences for drug crimes, including growing as little as one pot plant.
“Marijuana is the currency that is used to bring other more serious drugs into the country.”
Canada’s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act currently contains no mandatory prison sentences and judges use their own discretion about whether to send drug pushers and growers to jail.
But the Conservatives have proposed legislation which would impose one-year mandatory jail time for marijuana dealing, when it is linked to organized crime or a weapon is involved.
The sentence would be increased to two years for dealing drugs such as cocaine, heroin or methamphetamines to young people, or pushing drugs near a school or other places frequented by youths.
The proposed legislation would impose six months for growing one to 200 marijuana plants to sell, and two years for big-time growers of 500 plants or more.
The bill is arguably the most controversial piece of justice legislation introduced by the Conservative and critics have warned that, if passed, it could flood prisons and jails.
Opposition critics voiced concerns Wednesday that a crackdown would not only target big-time dealers, but it would end up sending drug addicts to provincial prisons, which have no few treatment programs in place.
New Democrat Libby Davies repeatedly grilled Nicholson on whether he has any evidence that minimum mandatory jail terms reduce crime. Davies cited studies prepared for the Justice Department several years ago showing that automatically jailing drug criminals does nothing to deter crime, as has been shown in the United States.
“Many States are repealing their mandatory minimums,” Davies said.
Nicholson declined to supply any evidence to the contrary, but he insisted that “we are absolutely convinced in our consultation with Canadians that this is welcomed across the country.”
There are already more than two dozen minimum prison terms in the Criminal Code, mainly for murder and offences involving firearms.
Nicholson also faced questioning from the Bloc Quebecois on why the Conservatives want to impose minimum jail terms for marijuana, when many of the people who sell it and grow it are small-time criminals.
The move to jail pot pushers and growers “sends a strong message” that is a far cry from an initiative of the former Liberal government to decriminalize marijuana possession, Nicholson said.
As a result of the Liberal actions, Canadians remain confused about the legal status of smoking marijuana, he said.
Nicholson’s bill, introduced two months ago, is similar to one the Conservatives tabled in late 2007, which died when the Oct. 14 general election was called.
– Article from CanWest News on April 22, 2009.