Beefed-Up Tory Senate Reconsiders Drug Bill

A Conservative bill to jail offenders caught growing five or more marijuana plants was back before the Senate Wednesday, a year after it watered down the government’s proposals by raising the bar to 200 plants.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson ignored the Senate amendments when he resurrected the legislation, and the upper chamber, which has fewer Liberals than it did a year ago, has less muscle to balk this time around.

Nicholson warned a Senate committee Wednesday that amending his proposed legislation again “would severely weaken the bill” so that a person involved in organized crime could have 150 plants in several locations and escape jail.

“This is directed at traffickers, the people who would sell drugs to children,” Nicholson said.

He said that there is no way that someone who grows 150 plants does not intend to sell marijuana, although he acknowledged it could be harder to prove trafficking when a grower is caught with seven plants.

His bill would impose mandatory jail for a variety of drug-related crimes for the first time in Canada, adding to more than two dozen criminal offences that already carry automatic imprisonment.

The makeup of the Senate has changed since it voted 49-43 last December to amend the bill. There are now 52 Conservatives, 49 Liberals and four others.

The first bill passed easily in the House of Commons in June 2009 after the Liberals teamed up with the Conservatives, despite grumbling within Grit ranks that they were being told to support a bad bill so they wouldn’t be accused of being soft on crime.

Nicholson’s proposed legislation would impose mandatory six-month terms for growing five or more plants with the intent to sell them, and one-year sentences when marijuana dealing is linked to organized crime or a weapon is involved.

Sentences would increase to two years for dealing such drugs as cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine to young people, or pushing drugs near a school or other places frequented by youths.

Liberal MP Brian Murphy, who sits on the Commons justice committee, has said that his party’s continued backing is not “a sure bet.”

Several opponents warned that the proposed legislation would fill jails with addicts and young people rather than drug kingpins, who would continue to thrive while small-time dealers are knocked out of commission.

It’s the third time around for Nicholson’s drug bill — the first version died when the 2008 election was called.

– Article from The Province.