New ‘Serious Offence’ Language Includes Marijuana

The ‘Regulations Prescribing Certain Offences to be Serious Offences’ came into effect July 13, 2010, and was publically enacted by the Federal Government early in August 2010. Regulations, unlike legislation, do not need to be approved by Parliament. Regulations are the specifics of legislation; in this case it is what particular offences are included as a ‘serious offence’. The Criminal Code sets out that the federal government has the power to include activities into the definition of ‘serious offences’ without Parliamentary debate. These regulation changes were made to the Criminal Code and Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

The new regulations expand the definition of ‘serious offence’ under the Criminal Code. By designating an offence a ‘serious offence’, someone convicted would potentially face a longer period of time than if caught under the offence generally. The new regulations include a number of new offences which, if carried out in relation to organized crime, carry a 5 year prison sentence. The designation also increases police powers during investigation, such as wiretaps and warrants. There is also greater seizure of proceeds and assets provisions, as well as changes to bail provisions. It has been said that these regulations bring Canada’s criminal laws closer to that of the United States. The new offences target ‘signature activities’ of organized crime, and involve gambling, betting and bawdyhouse related activities, as well as changes to drug trafficking laws which are discussed more below. Organized crime, or a ‘criminal organization’ under the Canadian Criminal Code is: three or more people inside or outside Canada; and these people are together mainly to either commit ‘serious offences’ or materially benefit from them being committed.

The new regulations cover trafficking and production in Schedule IV substances (includes Barbiturates, Benzodiazepines, Anabolic Steroids, and related). Importing and exporting any substance in Schedule IV and V is also included as a ‘serious offence’. As well, trafficking cannabis (including hashish) amounts under 3 kilograms has been included as a ‘serious offence’.

So if three or more people are trading a few grams of marijuana amongst themselves, this is now potentially a ‘serious offence’, and these people are facing 5 years in jail.

Not surprisingly, the federal government claims these regulations are targeting ‘kingpins’, head honchos, the leaders of organized crime. Unfortunately, none of this adds up to ‘safer and healthier communities’, as the government likes to put it. These tough on crime regulations are not going to make a dent in the drug trade. The only effective way to remove drugs as a source of revenue for organized crime is to regulate them.

These regulations instead increase the criminalization of drugs and drug users in Canadian communities. Low level, non-violent offenders are the easy prey of these regulations. Prisons are not treatment centers. Prisons are not where we want young people to receive drug education, as they fulfill their prison terms from these regulations.

The fact is these regulations are in effect. There is always the unpredictable question of how the law will be enforced. Will the law be used to keep ‘kingpins’ off our streets? Or will it be used to threaten medical marijuana compassion centers and co-ops? Will the new regulations be used selectively and meaningfully, or will they be used to further marginalize people already on the fringes of our society?

The federal government’s ‘tough on crime’ approach to drugs and drug-related crime is making our communities less safe. They are pretending we can simply enforce our way out of our problems, and in the process starve social programs, diverse treatment options, and harm reduction strategies. The drug market needs to be effectively regulated, not inefficiently enforced. The prohibition of drugs creates more harm than the drugs themselves. CSSDP continues to call on all political parties to take a stand, and recognize that we need to end the criminalization of drugs and drug users, and implement a public-health based approach to drugs in our society.

– Press release from Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy.