Canada's War on Marijuana Expanding on All Fronts
CANNABIS CULTURE - Canada is escalating its war on cannabis and the casualties are piling up on multiple fronts across the nation.
It seems like it was just a few years ago that Canadian marijuana users were feeling hopeful about the future of the country's drug laws. The turn of the century ushered in significant reform to Canada's medical marijuana laws, allowing patients access to cannabis through a federal medical licensing program. In 2002, after interviewing hundreds of experts and studying the issue for two years, the Senate of Canada recommended that marijuana be completely legalized. Activist entrepreneur Marc Emery sold cannabis seeds openly and toured the country during the "Summer of Legalization". And a Liberal Prime Minister promised country-wide decriminalization of marijuana, but half-jokingly cautioned, "don't start to smoke yet".
His words would turn out to be foreshadowing of things to come in Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Canada, where delays in medical marijuana licences are now turning sick Canadians into criminals; where Marc Emery has been arrested and exiled to a run-down US prison; and where the Senate of Canada has passed legislation making non-violent cannabis crimes punishable by American-style mandatory minimum sentences – in preparation for a massive expansion of the country's prison system.
Health Canada Delays Turn Medicine Into Contraband
Though Canada has a functioning medical marijuana program, there is growing debate over just how well it actually functions. Report after report after report has exposed Health Canada's inability to get medical marijuana users their licences and renewals on time, but the government has done little to fix the problem and stands by silently as formerly-legal medical marijuana users are raided, arrested and left without electricity for the winter.
Medical marijuana user Sam Mellace, who recently sparked a joint in the House of Commons to protest the delays, told Cannabis Culture the government's inaction is causing more suffering for already-sick individuals.
"People with disabilities are now facing criminal charges because of these delays," Mellace said. "Why should Canadians who are supposed to be legal medical marijuana users be facing prison for using their medicine? It just does't make sense."
Inspections, Raids, and Police Spying
Marijuana is increasingly being used as convenient excuse for authorities to come and (literally) sniff around the homes of Canadian citizens. To combat the "hazards" of marijuana grow-ops, municipalities are now performing "safety inspections" on homes that show "unusually high" power consumption. Some cities have been charging fees upward of $5000 per inspection, even when they don't find anything illegal.
In a decision with disturbing implications, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in November 2010 that police can obtain household power records and attach digital recording devices to suspected grow homes to track power usage patterns as part of pre-warrant investigations.
Any skunky smell near your home is enough to allow the police to secretly spy on you or kick down your door with a fully-armed SWAT team – even when that smell is actually a real skunk.
In April of 2010, Toronto police conducted a violent raid of one of the oldest compassion clubs in Canada; and in June of 2010, raided another five medical marijuana dispensaries in Quebec. Despite worries of similar raids in Vancouver, several new med-pot dispensaries have opened their doors and have been unaffected.
Big Profits for Provinces in Property Forfeiture and Taxes
As the raids continue, authorities are making sure that Provincial governments get a piece of the prohibition profits by confiscating the homes and property of suspected marijuana growers and selling them for big bucks. Amazingly, civil forfeiture laws like the ones in British Columbia do not require a criminal conviction, meaning a person can lose everything even if they are acquitted of an offence.
As police boast about the millions they've made reselling peoples stuff, the Canadian Revenue Agency is working hard to extract taxes from the illegal sales of marijuana. This month, newspapers reported that the Agency is telling compassion clubs to hand over lists of growers who could be targeted for Income Tax payments. Though police turn a blind eye to the clubs, selling marijuana – for medical or recreational purposes – is still illegal in Canada. This doesn't seem to bother a Revenue Agency spokesman, who told the press his only concern is the income, not the source.
Marc Emery Goes To Jail
Prince of Pot Marc Emery – after years of openly selling marijuana seeds, paying taxes to the government, and using the profits to fund the legalization movement (including Cannabis Culture) – was raided and arrested in 2005 and forced out of the seed business; a business that continues to thrive openly in Canada (and internationally).
Emery was targeted for political purposes, and the DEA admitted as much when they issued a press release the day of his arrest acknowledging the hundreds of thousands of dollars he "channeled to marijuana legalization groups active in the United States and Canada."
"Drug legalization lobbyists now have one less pot of money to rely on," the release stated.
After negotiating a plea deal, Emery was extradited to the US by the Conservative government in May of 2010 and is now serving a 5-year sentence. He will attempt to return to Canada through the Treaty Transfer process, which allows Canadian offenders serving time abroad to serve their time at home and be closer to their families.
In another departure from Liberal Party policies of yesteryear, Harper's Conservatives have refused to allow home a significant percentage of Canadian inmates serving time in other countries, justifying their actions with mind-bendingly smug statements like, "The previous Liberal government put criminals first. We put public safety first."
Next month, the Canadian and US governments will decide if Emery will be allowed to come home. Click here to find out how you can help convince them.
Emery is probably the most recognized pot activist in Canada, and his extradition sent a chilling message to others that speaking up and making noise about drug policy can land you behind bars.
Mandatory Minimums for Marijuana
After winning a minority government in 2006, the Conservatives under Stephen Harper began pushing legislation that included mandatory minimum jail sentences for marijuana offences; the type of laws responsible for exploding prison populations in the US; the type of laws that the experts and even the US Drug Czar agree don't work and lead to serious problems.
The legislation, now in its third incarnation as Bill S-10, would make growing as few as six plants punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of six months. Making hash, pot edibles, or extracts and sharing them would be a mandatory 18-month sentence. The bill even includes life sentences for non-violent marijuana crimes.
S-10 was passed quietly by the Senate with hardly a critical peep from the opposition Liberal Party or the press. The bill now moves to the House of Commons for voting before it can become law.
After initially saying marijuana legalization "would create problems" with our American neighbours, the Liberal leader floated the idea of decriminalization at a recent town-hall style meeting. Besides this one seemingly supportive statement, a deafening silence has come over the Liberal party leadership on the issue of marijuana law reform.
Harper's Prison Nation
Bill S-10 is just one part of the Harper Government's plan to massively increase the size of Canada's prison population and spend countless billions of taxpayer dollars on facilities to house all the new, non-violent 'criminals'.
The Conservatives are pushing several bills that will drastically increase prisoner numbers – including one to abolish the two-for-one-pretrial custody credit and another that tightens parole rules – and are planning on spending lots of cash on thousands of new jail cells.
The Conservative justification for implementing these draconian new jailing policies sounds hollow – as hollow as the heads of the officials doing the justifying. Though the crime rate has been dropping for years, Minister of International Trade Stockwell Day told the press the government must spend billions expanding the prison system to tackle "unreported crime."
"One statistic of many that concerns us is the amount of crimes that go unreported," Day said. "Those numbers are alarming and it shows that we can't take a liberal view to crime."
If it's Day's logic-murdering statement you find a little alarming, you are not alone. The government is not without its critics. As the details of billion-dollar budgets continue to be made public, the Conservatives are coming under increasing fire from opposition parties.
Liberal Public Safety Critic Mark Holland told CTV News that the new policies will hurt, not help Canadians.
"The problem is, these ideas have been tried and failed," he said. "These are failed Republican policies that came out of states like California, where not only did they spend tens of billions of dollars on prisons, and nearly bankrupted the state, sucking money out of education, health care, and every other priority, but it actually made communities less safe. In California, it drove their rate of reoffending over 70%."
Former Canadian media baron Conrad Black, who served time in prison for fraud, told the media Harper's prison expansion policy was "a moral and political catastrophe".
"The whole notion of confining people into prisons because of an offence that doesn't imply violence or extreme sociopathic activity is just an heirloom from the middle ages or, indeed, ancient times. It's only done because it's always been done. It's a completely foolish thing to do."
As Canada escalates the war on drugs, the prohibition profiteers get richer and more powerful. Gangs, which derive their primary source of funding from illegal trade in marijuana and other drugs, are virtually guaranteed a steady source of income under the unregulated Conservative system. Prisons are recruiting centres for gangs, and reoffending rates are expected to increase if the Conservatives are successful in passing their legislation, which leads to further prison expansions, and so on…
In reality, drug gangs and Drug-Warrior politicians have a symbiotic relationship – they both benefit from each other's existence. The gangs are allowed to survive so Conservative politicians have an enemy to target and exploit for easy votes from a fearful base. A bigger enemy – which includes average Canadian potheads – means a bigger fight, which ultimately means more control for the governing powers. But when it comes to the Drug War, control is not so easy to keep.
We need look only as far as Mexico, where the Drug War is now killing more people than the War in Afghanistan, to catch a glimpse of our war-torn future under Conservative marijuana policies.