I joined a dedicated group of activists outside Liberal MP Hedy Fry’s office on Saturday as part of country-wide rallies at Members of Parliament’s offices to protest Bill S-10, the Conservative drug legislation that would bring American-style mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana “offences” to Canada.
It was a small but vocal group, and we handed out flyers to people passing by and waved our signs and flags at honking cars. I was hoping Hedy’s office would be open so we could stage a protest inside, similar to our Conservative office occupations, but evidently she and her staff take weekends off.
Go to the Flickr photo gallery.
The media showed up for activists in Peterborough, Ontario while they protested outside the office of Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro.
If you’re a Canadian and haven’t heard of Bill S-10 yet, it’s the latest tough-on-crime drug bill proposed by Stephen Harper and his (Neo-)Conservative Party that includes mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana “crimes” – including 9 months in jail for growing 6 cannabis plants, or 18 months in jail for making and sharing marijuana cookies, hash, or other extracts.
These are mandatory sentences. This means, even if you are a medical marijuana user and the judge is sympathetic to your case, if you don’t have a government-issued medicinal exemption, you will go to jail.
This is probably why many of the most active of activists are from the medical community, as they have the most to lose. At the moment, it’s not easy to get a medical marijuana exemption from Health Canada without a long wait, and access to a sympathetic doctor who will sign your papers in the first place. As well, medical marijuana dispensaries are not actually legal in Canada (it is only legal for patients to grow their own, have someone grow for them, or get bunky weed from Health Canada), but judges across Canada have refused to take serious action against them. If S-10 passes and mandatory minimum sentences come into play, it would remove the power judges now enjoy and could fill prisons with medical users.
Making cannabis extracts and baked goods is also not currently legal under Canada’s medical exemptions, and is targeted directly in Bill S-10 with mandatory 18-month sentences.
“The Conservatives are trying to impose mandatory prison sentences against people caught growing as few as six marijuana plants,” said BC Compassion Club Society Communications Coordinator Jeet-Kei Leung, in a press release about the rallies. “This will be devastating for the compassionate cultivators under contract to the BCCCS and for the overwhelming majority of medical marijuana patients that do not have the Canadian Medical Marijuana Access Regulations (MMAR) card.”
Leung was at the rally with me at Fry’s office, and we had a good chance to discuss many of the problems with Bill S-10 and the Conservatives vision for Canada.
“Mandatory minimum sentencing will inadvertently increase profits for organized crime, because it’s the small-time ‘mom and pop’ operators who will be scared off by mandatory sentences,” Leung said. “And it’s exactly organized crime who will be in the best position to step in to fill the void left by the disappearance of the cottage industry that’s involved in marijuana cultivation.”
And the protests continued past the weekend: on Monday, medical marijuana activist Sam Mellace lit up a joint in the House of Commons to protest Canada’s medical marijuana rules.
“My wife can’t smoke her medication because she has lung cancer, so I make the butter and smoothies,” Mellace said. “It’s ridiculous to think that I could go to jail for easing my wife’s suffering.”
Click here to find out how to help fight Bill S-10.