CANNABIS CULTURE – On June 8, Canada’s Parliament passed a new set of mandatory minimum penalties for a variety of marijuana and drug offences.
The new law now goes to the Senate, where it will likely be approved. Even though Canada’s Senate has many members who oppose prohibition, it is extremely rare for the Senate to block a bill passed by Parliament, especially when it has the support of both Liberals and Conservatives.
According to Conservative Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, the law is aimed at “serious drug traffickers, the people who are basically out to destroy our society.”
NDP & BLOC QUEBECOIS OPPOSE NEW LAW
“This bill is clearly targeted at the low-level dealers,” said Libby Davies, NDP House Leader. “It is simply really bad public policy. It is going to increase the prison population, particularly the provincial prison population, because most of these mandatory sentences that are two years or less will be under the provincial jurisdiction.”
Davies explained how the Liberals teamed with the Conservatives to stop the bill from being amended.
“In committee, the NDP put forward 21 amendments that tried to remove some of the worst aspects of the bill, by changing the regime of mandatory minimums, for example, and getting an exemption for medical marijuana for compassion clubs.”
“I am so disappointed that those amendments did not go through,” continued Davies. “The Liberal members on the committee failed to respond to those amendments and failed to support them, which really surprises me.”
A number of prominent Liberals are challenging their party’s support for this bill. Dozens of bloggers, riding association presidents and other party members have publicly complained about Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff pressuring the party to back the new law.
Yet when it came to the vote, every Liberal present voted for the bill, except for Liberal MP Keith Martin, who supports decriminalization. Martin abstained from the vote. The NDP and Bloc all voted against it.
“In the context of some occasions where the sentences have not been appropriate, we’re in support of C-15,” said Ignatieff. “We support stronger measures.”
SOME HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NEW LAW
SCHEDULE ONE EXPANDED
Schedule I, which already included substances like opiates and cocaine, is expanded to include methamphetamine and GHB.
MINIMUMS FOR MAKING HASH AND GROWING POT
The following minimum penalties will only apply when the hash-making or pot-growing is being done “for trafficking purposes.” However, under the law, trafficking includes sharing with friends. So unless you can prove that you were going to use every last gram all by yourself, it will be considered trafficking.
Making hash: 1 year mandatory minimum
Growing 5-200 cannabis plants: 6 months
Growing 201-500 plants: 1 year
Growing 501 or more plants: 2 years
If you live in a rental home, or if there are children in the grow home, or if the judge just deems your garden to be a “potential public safety hazard,” then the minimum penalties are lengthened as follows:
Making hash: 18 months
5-200 plants: 9 months
210-500 plants: 18 moths
501+ plants: 3 years
MINIMUMS FOR MAKING OPIUM OR GROWING POPPIES
Producing any amount of a Schedule I substance gets a mandatory minimum of two years. (This includes growing opium poppies and coca plants.)
MINIMUMS FOR SELLING
If a person in jail is caught selling or sharing any Schedule I substance, they get an automatic 2 years added to their sentence.
Anyone caught selling or sharing a Schedule I substance on or near a school grounds would get a 2 year mandatory minimum sentence. This would include a student selling or sharing with another student.
Selling any Schedule I substance “near any public place usually frequented by people under the age of 18” gets a 2 year mandatory sentence. No definition of “near” is given, neither is it defined what exactly is meant by “a public place frequented by people under the age of 18.” This vague law could easily cover most of the city and catch many people unawares. Once again, this applies to a youth who shares or sells to another youth.
A second conviction for trafficking in over 3 kilos of marijuana or hash within a ten-year period will get a mandatory 1 year sentence.
MINIMUMS FOR IMPORTING AND EXPORTING
Get caught mailing a few grams across the border? Exporting or importing any amount of marijuana gets a mandatory 1 year in jail.
Exporting or importing up to a a kilo of coca leaf, cocaine, opium or heroin gets a year mandatory imprisonment. Over a kilo gets an automatic 2 years in jail.
EXCERPTS FROM THE TESTIMONY OF MS SARAH INNESS, SPEAKING ON BEHALF OF THE CANADIAN BAR ASSOCIATION
At the outset, I wish to state that the CBA opposes the use of mandatory minimum sentences on the basis that they do not advance the goals of deterrence; they do not target the most serious of offenders, who are already sentenced stiffly; they catch less culpable offenders, subjecting them to lengthy terms of imprisonment; they have a disproportionate impact on those minority groups who are already disadvantaged; and they subvert important aspects of the sentencing regime, including the principles of proportionality and the individualization of the sentencing process.
For example, a young adult occasional user of marijuana who is growing ten plants for his own use and to share with some friends attracts an MMS of six months. We would say that this sentence violates the principle of proportionality and the importance of rehabilitation.
A person making a small amount of cannabis resin for use and to share with friends would be subject to an MMS of one year and to 18 months if he did so in a house that he was renting. The legislation apparently fails to address a situation in which the third party owner of the property is aware of and complicit in the use of the property for the offence.
Bill C-15 also imposes escalating levels of incarceration depending upon the number of plants an individual grows for trafficking. For instance, this bill would require an MMS of six months for 200 plants, yet twelve months for 201 plants. It is contrary to common sense and well-established sentencing principles for a person to receive double the length of a sentence for a difference of one plant.
We believe the impact upon the administration of justice of this bill, if it is passed, will be significant. Fewer people will plead guilty, preferring to contest the charges rather than be subject to an automatic mandatory minimum sentence upon pleading guilty. This will increase the length of time it takes for cases to be heard in the courts, increase the number of trials, and inevitably increase the strain on court resources.
Given the significant prison terms proposed within Bill C-15, the crown should be required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the aggravating factors triggering an MMS as well as the mens rea component of those aggravating factors; for example, the requisite degree of awareness of the number of plants, or the fact that the offence was being committed at or near a school or at a place usually frequented by those under the age of 18.
We point out the lack of a definition with respect to “in or near a school”, or places “usually frequented” by those under 18. We make the point that the crown ought to be required to prove not only the mens rea of the offence itself but also that with respect to the aggravating factor that would trigger a mandatory minimum sentence.
HOW TO STOP BILL C-15
Please call or email your Senators and tell them to vote NO! on BILL C-15
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Updated on June 10, 2009