Law and Order Ottawa: Bill C-15 is Wrong Approach to Drugs

Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada want to put marijuana users, growers and sellers behind bars. Bill C-15 will bring American-style mandatory minimum sentences to Canada.Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada want to put marijuana users, growers and sellers behind bars. Bill C-15 will bring American-style mandatory minimum sentences to Canada.

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Mexico has recently decriminalized possession of small amounts of most illicit substances. Portugal is reporting success with similar reforms. Former Latin American leaders are calling for ending drug prohibition and implementing legally regulated markets.

It seems that radical drug policy reform is catching on, but the current Canadian government is moving backwards by attempting to implement mandatory minimum sentences (MMS) for drug offences in the form of Bill C-15.

Bill C-15 moved through the House of Commons quickly this past spring, where a very deferential Liberal party supported the Conservative motion, with the Bloc Québecois and NDP opposing. Bill C-15 will prescribe mandatory minimum sentences (MMS) for drug crimes, meaning that certain offences will trigger automatic jail or prison sentences.

For example, growing between six and two hundred marijuana plants will result in six to nine months of imprisonment, or two years if youth are around. Producing or selling drugs such as cocaine and heroin with the involvement of organized crime or violence has a penalty of a one year minimum sentence. Doing the same in a prison or involving youth results in two years in prison. The Bill is part of the Conservative’s larger anti-crime strategy, an unabashedly ‘tough on crime’ strategy, light on supporting evidence, but heavy on divisive wedge politics.

Making Canadians safer, or making bigger profits for organized crime?

But is Bill C-15 going to make Canadians safer, as its defenders claim? Not likely. A 2002 Department of Justice study concluded drug consumption and related crime seem to be unaffected by MMS policies. The day to day of the illicit drug markets will hardly be affected. Since the risks of the drug trade will increase, prices likely will rise as well, resulting in higher profits for those we are trying to punish with this bill.

Liberal MP Brian Murphy stated in the House of Commons that it would be a good thing even if the organized criminals were not deterred and the only people caught and deterred by C-15 were ‘mom and pop’ marijuana growers. Recently law enforcement officials in California stated that the mom and pop operations in that state are diverting significant amounts of market share away from Mexican cartels. Responsible growers are the biggest competition for organized crime, yet we want to lock them up?

The trouble with Bill C-15 is that it still addresses the issue of drugs with a war-on-drugs mentality. Illicit drugs are seen as something that can be removed from our society, when in reality they are a lucrative commodity and have been part of societies since the beginning of time. Without responsibly and sensibly addressing drugs in our society this Bill will be another failed attempt at maintaining a criminally enforced drug prohibition in a society that won’t sustain it.

For many, Drug Treatment Courts (DTCs) are the silver lining of Bill C-15, but experts have already warned that they are not a viable option for many who will be facing charges under Bill C-15. DTCs are expensive to build and few Canadian cities already have one. Treatment centers and services have long waiting lists. For those who do get access to the DTCs, success rates are low and generally short-term.

Liberals choose ‘tough on crime’ over ‘smart on crime’

In April 2009, members of CSSDP descended upon Parliament Hill to speak to MPs about Bill C-15. Our position, like the majority of witnesses, was that the Bill should be dropped in its entirety, and replaced with a sensible, evidence-based drug policy.

Many of the Liberal MPs we met with agreed with us that MMSs were not going to make Canadians safer, or curb the illicit drug market, or change the fact that roughly 70 per cent of resources go to enforcement rather than treatment, education or harm reduction. But then we heard what really mattered to them; if the Liberal party voted against Bill C-15 the Conservatives will paint them as ‘soft on crime.’ No matter how hard we argued that being ‘smart on crime’ is what Canadians want and need, most Liberals thought that by voting for C-15 they were engineering the Liberal party’s return to power.

It’s no secret that the Conservatives have been using crime and safety issues as wedge issues. When asked where the evidence was to support Bill C-15, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson stated he didn’t need any because he had the will of the people. Conservatives accused Liberal Senators of directly threatening the safety and well being of Canadians by not pushing C-15 and other justice bills through.

Discrediting evidence-based policy-making

A recent study by Graham Stewart and Michael Jackson done on the Conservatives roadmap for justice and prison reform found that “Raw wedge politics — in place of studied evidence — is the new face of public policy for Canada.” Bill C-15 is simply part of a broader attempt to discredit evidence-based policy-making, and instead promote base judgements, uninformed opinions and distrust in anyone who tries to stand up for a sensible policy.

In the face of these wedge politics, several witnesses at the Parliamentary Justice Committee hearings on C-15 spoke in favour of ending drug prohibition, with substantial evidence to back their arguments. For example, under drug prohibition the lion’s share of the market is under the control of organized crime groups. Ending drug prohibition means replacing a criminal prohibition scheme with one that puts the control of production and distribution in responsible hands.

If Canadians want to get serious about tackling organized crime, we need to talk realistically about drug use and the drug market. Criminalizing production and distribution maintains an illegal black market, controlled by those most willing to use violence to hold their share, and those least deterred by prison sentences.

Just as we have different regulatory schemes to cover alcohol and tobacco, we can implement different regulatory schemes to cover other illicit drugs. Responsible and sensible users, producers, and distributors of currently illicit substances should not be criminalized.

Canadians may need to take a strong, ‘tough’ stance against organized crime. What could be tougher on organized crime than taking away its profit source by successfully re-regulating drugs?

Caleb Chepesiuk is a staff member with Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, a national non-profit grassroots youth network working to promote evidence-based information and resources on substance use issues.

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  1. Anonymous on

    If I Had or Smoked Pot I wouldn’t be Angry

  2. Anonymous on


  3. Anonymous on

    FUCK the U.S.A. Government. I am pissed off, what is so fucking good about our government on iilegal immigration our Border Control,We want Pot Legal,Do they legalize it?? There is more trouble with alcohol..!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Speaking of our Border Control & TAXES.I wish I didn’t have to pay taxes because they don’t do what they supposed to do anyway,Oh its there 5th of July & they are getting paid for not working?FUCK ME Again,, I WANT MY $5000.00 back they fined me(Border Control) I would be Fired if I didn’t do my job.FUCK WALL STREET for giving them selves raises, I hsave to help pay for this BULLSHIT!!! B.FUCKIN P. for taking Shortcuts & causing people down the Gulf to commit suicide, THis Country has gone to HELL, AMERICAN GREED,This is not the Country I remember,All anyone cares about is themselves.What about the promlems here in this Country with the gangs & people killing each other here in our Major Cities.Why should we have to fight a war in the FUCKIN MIDDLE EAST when its been going on for thousands of years?? Fix here First! DO NOT HELP ISRAEL “Fuck them Jews” Help our own Jews here in U.S. quote by George Burns- Cabdrivers & Hairdressers,Barbers should run the Country but there to busy working, I am a nickel chasing Cabdriver

  4. tax paying ontarian on

    i have never voted before but i know now i will..and it wont be conservative or liberal….what a shame….:(-

  5. fuckyou crazy canooks fuck on

    you fuckin americian, fuckyou. We had the sense to just stay in afganistan. You guys are real smart i heard the iraq world went real well, yeaaa!!

  6. Anonymous on

    the tough on crime policies of Canada are entirely contradictory. Being tough on crime has been empirically verified as not necessarily being effective on crime (in fact, often entirely ineffective or worse, counterproductive). Eliminating the fear of crime has become of the utmost concern to the Canadian people. We need an enlightenment, when will reason prevail? Canada is not making sense right now. In the future we will look back at this time in complete disgust. Our freedom is being compromised and we, the people, who have control, are letting it go. Don’t let the ruling class of Canada determine our reality.

  7. Joseph on

    With a Harper Government we are going to lose our rights to live free. Seems are solders are dying in vein out fighting in the name of freedom. We all know it all about oil as they continue to gouge us at the pumps. 400,000 jobs lost and only 39,000 jobs created and the gas jumps up. Where is the demand? They are setting us up for a $150 a barrel. What the 39 % of Canadians who support Harper and the right wing right Reform part who are just like the USA war complex who want to create a private for profit prisons industries who are contributors to the Harper government will bid to ware house non violent people whose only crime is ingesting a plant that is safer than alcohol Then become property of the prison industries. Who then contract out city jobs like cutting lawns and getting a other profits and in return slave who is none violent person to labor for a $0.50 a hour at the same time billing the majority of the tax payer? To ware house these people who could be out working and paying taxes rather than them Taxing the Canadians to wasted and in humane system which the Americans are now waking up to and reforming the laws to treat pot as alcohol How high will the Canadian dept have to go till people will wake up 80 billion, $500, billion a trillion dollars in dept. This is what we all have to look forward to in the future as the Harper Government wants to treat the plant a war on a product that the De lain commission said marijuana should be legalize regulated and tax like alcohol. The Harper government support the gangs buy leaving a $500 billion dollars industry in the hands of the gangs who are killing each other over territory. That’s a lot of money no wonder there killing each other. It’s too bad because if marijuana was legalize and regulated and tax and controlled industry this would create thousands of full time jobs. When a government bows to corporations and controls laws to make people choose a safer product than alcohol that now become dictator ship. When an industry bribe government officials to create laws that control consumption of their products by making a product that is safer than alcohol and making it illegal this take away competition now putting in the hands of a black market is insane. But profitable for war prohibitionist who thrive on a black market war in our city`s and across Canada. So to say that Canadians are fighting for freedom to have freedom we must have freedom of ( choice ) to be free. I should not go to jail and have my life ruined for choosing a safer product than alcohol as an adult who is a retired solder I know what freedom the Harper Government does not stand for freedom they are Dictators.

  8. one12alpha on

    Totally agree river cat. I blame TV for so much of our problems. 40 years ago we watch the greatest achievement of mankind on live TV, man on the moon, while TV was in its infancy. It was simultaneously the biggest atrocity of mankind. It was so amazing, we’re still staring at the picto-cube.
    Now, it seems impossible for anyone to form an opinion on anything without Dr Phil, or Bill O’Riley, telling them what their opinion is.
    On top of that we add the “race card” to the mix, with our first “black” president. Anyone who dares disagree with him, or call him out as a phony is automatically racist. Example, a congressman from South Carolina says one word “liar”, and just like that he’s racist. Being white, and from South Carolina didn’t help his situation either.

    Conspiracy time! I think marijuana will never be legal because 99% of the time we (the users) agree, at least in part, with each other. We form our own opinions, think freely, and use more logic in problem solving. We all desire true freedom, even if it means we might have to deal with something we dislike from time to time. But the biggest kicker, is our unity. We stand by one another, regardless of where we are from, when we see we’ve been wronged…and with very little intensive, or reward. People across the globe protested Marc’s extradition, while very few would truly benefit from his release. Why? Because its total BS, no matter what language you speak, for someone to go to prison for a plant….or its seed for that matter.

  9. river cat on

    I wish everybody thought like you one12alpha you are an intelligent man, if they did Ron Paul would be president and ganja would be legal, but people are sheep, they do what the mass media tells them, and it told them to vote for Obama the evil liar! He aint EVER gonna legalize pot and he made the debt and war WAY WORSE!! The only change that asshole brought is change for the worse!!

  10. Anonymous on

    Yeah Fuckin Hilarious, ya fuckin idiot!
    It’s your fucked up Government pulling the strings that cause this here and everywhere in the world.
    Every time Canada made a move for legalization , your mother fuckin bitch ass Government whined and then threatened as usual to stop trying and being FREE or we’ll cut business, FUCK YOU U.S.A.!!!
    I hope U.S.A. breaks off floats away and sinks to the bottom of the fuckin Ocean.
    You bitch ASS whiny fucked Government cannot stop sticking it’s Corruption and evil into every Country including mine and if they come across with their ARMY to try and do what they did in New Orleans; I’m going to die trying to stop them.
    FUCK YOU U.S.A. Government!
    Look to the skies ass and when you see those burning balls of fire hurtling all over your Country, Know it’s judgment day on your fucked up evil asses.

  11. M.sebastian on

    I think this is sadly hilarious! In the nineties, most of my buddies were talking about moving up to canada because weed was gonna be legal there soon…Now many of our states are removing jail as an option to punish the cannabis consumer. It’s just a plant. And your counties’ gonna go downhill fast once this bad boy is signed! What’s the best form of government? A local one.

  12. one12alpha on

    Good call. We need to get out of the mind set of liberal v conservative, democrat v republican, etc. Here, in America, when we vote biased on political party, we give those parties to much power. They claim to have different approaches to one subject or the other, and they do, but their outcome is always the same goal. What we should be doing, everywhere, is voting on the INDIVIDUAL biased on his proposed ideas, plans, and ideals. Not on his/her affiliaton.Furthermore, we need to be able to hold them accountable for their variances from their original promise. When Obama claimed he would stop DEA raids on Marijuana dispensaries/collectives operating within their states regulations, he gained alot of support from people like us. But he fell short of living up to his promise. We need to be able to hold these elected officials accountable.
    I am so sick of politicians because they’ll say anything to get into office, but once there they are on their own agenda. I’ve almost totally lost hope for democracy because of this activity. I cannot, any longer, believe anything that they promise, plan, or claim to believe. To often have they changed sides once elected. There must be some way to remove from office someone who was elected under false pretense.
    How hard is it to be straight up and honest? If you smoked pot in high school or still do, F#$king admit it! None of this “I didn’t inhale” crap. Obama was straight up about it, and he actually GAINED support. We shouldn’t elect people who claim to be perfectly law abiding. They are either lieing their A#$ off, or they are not human.

    So, Yah, vote for the INDIVIDUAL, not his/her affiliation. However, don’t ignore their affiliation. These days it will be a hard task of balancing a candidates proposals with their political parties agenda. Because, in the end, their loyalty lies with their political party, not with you.

  13. Anonymous on

    The Banks/Financial will have issues with this in the near future. If I went to jail for six months I would have to go Bankrupt. There should be a WAR ON Stupidity. I will not vote conservative or liberal anymore at all. Crooks and Liars.