Reefer Madness: Automatic Jail for Six Pot Plants is Too Harsh

Ignoring what was a wise recommendation on the part of the Senate, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson has revived an ill-considered bill that will impose a mandatory minimum sentence of six months for anyone convicted of growing as few as six marijuana plants.

The Harper government has apparently learned nothing from the U.S. experience of its war on drugs. Despite 25 years of harsh mandatory minimums, disproportionate numbers of the poor, the young, minorities and the drug addicted have been thrown in U.S. jails with no impact on the drug business itself, which has flourished. Several U.S. states have recently retreated from mandatory minimums as ineffective.

Sending anyone to jail for six pot plants without taking into account aggravating circumstances will only send college kids to the slammer. Aggravating circumstances include the presence of guns and weapons, or children. If there are these or other aggravating conditions, by all means, throw the book at them. That’s what the Senate recommended when considering the bill last fall, before the Harper government prorogued Parliament. The Senate set the bar at 200 plants for garnering automatic incarceration, but left it at the current five plants in cases where aggravating factors were involved.

Nicholson has ignored those amendments and resurrected his bill as it passed in the House of Commons last June, with the support of the Liberals. The bill, introduced for the third time after dying twice before, removes discretion for judges to sentence as they see fit. For the home user, growing six plants would trigger an automatic sentence of nine months in jail.

A recent Angus Reid poll found that 53 per cent of Canadians support legalizing marijuana. In Alberta, support was even higher, at 59 per cent. A recent analysis of 15 international studies, done by the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, also showed that increased drug law enforcement only resulted in increasing levels of drug violence. The studies also noted that U.S. marijuana use is higher than Europe, and that Portugal, which recently decriminalized all drugs, has the lowest rates in Europe.

The Harper government’s proposed legislation will catch more renters than homeowners, because involving a third party is one of several mitigating factors. Set up in the name of protecting children, it will have the consequence of punishing young people who are going to school, branding them for life.

Mandatory minimums are necessary for gun crimes and should be imposed without question. But there are bigger crime issues to be tackled than some kid growing six pot plants on a balcony instead of five. When gang members are back on the street after using a gun in a crime and college kids face jail time for growing a half-dozen pot plants on their balconies, something is drastically amiss.

– Article from The Calgary Herald.