The media have had very little to say about Bill C-15, a federal Conservative bill currently working its way through Parliament. This legislation will require that everyone convicted of growing a single marijuana plant or more must spend a minimum of six months in jail.
The last decade of cannabis cultivation convictions in our province clearly shows that if this mandatory minimum is implemented, there will be close to a 50 per cent increase in the provincial jail population, just to house those who cultivate cannabis. The projected annual bill for the province for housing these cultivators will be $114 million, and that’s not even counting the capital costs required for the construction of the additional prison cells that will be needed. I trust that Gordon Campbell and the Liberals are, at least behind closed doors, lobbying against this rather significant drain on the provincial purse. If Stephen Harper and the Conservatives want to lock up everyone who grows a marijuana plant, why don’t they make the minimum penalty 2 years imprisonment in a federal prison? At least that would make the federal government financially accountable for its folly.
Let’s acknowledge that there are features of some large scale marijuana grow operations that deserve a strong rebuke: the theft of electricity, the exposure of children to toxic moulds, and the presence of guns or other weapons at the site of a grow. Penalize these activities, not the growing of cannabis itself — this activity can be engaged in safely, without risk to children, or the surrounding community.
At the end of the day, however, using the criminal law against cannabis is wholly counter-productive. It’s criminalization that causes theft of electricity, violence in the cannabis trade, exposure to toxic moulds, and provides folks who are sometimes mindless thugs with millions of dollars in untaxed income. There’s no evidence that cannabis use results in anything close to the death toll produced by alcohol and tobacco, even when current — and projected future — rates of use are taken into account.
Marijuana use by consenting adults is a public health issue, not a moral problem. And those who choose to use it, or grow for their own needs, should not be treated as criminals. In a more sane world, the drug would be taxed and regulated. In a more sane world the financially reckless proposals of Stephen Harper and the Conservatives would be regarded as considerably more silly than the antics of Cheech and Chong.