Ignatieff Says Liberals Will Reintroduce Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

CANNABIS CULTURE – Canadian Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff says his party will reintroduce legislation to “decriminalize” small amounts of marijuana for recreational use.

On September 27 in Montreal, the first night of his cross-country Open Mike tour, the Opposition Leader told an audience of over 200 people that the Libs would bring back Martin Cauchon’s decrim bill that would eliminate criminal penalties for possession of under 15 grams of cannabis and replace them with fines.

Liberal Critic for Justice, Montreal MP Marlene Jennings, who joined Ignatieff at the event, added that she will push for Health Canada to streamline the process of granting medical marijuana permits.

Introduced in 2003, the original Cauchon bill would have lessened or removed penalties for possession of small amounts or cultivation of under 25 plants, but increased penalties for growing more than 25 plants.

Here’s a breakdown of the original bill from a 2003 StoptheDrugWar.org article:

• Possession of 15 grams or less is no longer a crime but a “contravention” (similar in seriousness to a traffic violation) punishable only by a fine. Fines increase from the set minimum according to whether “aggravating” factors, such as possession while driving or near a school, are involved.

• Possession of 15 to 30 grams may be charged as either a contravention or a criminal offense at the discretion of the officer involved. The same aggravating factors may be applied in making the charging decision.

• Penalties are lowered for the cultivation of three or fewer plants to a maximum of 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine. Under current law, all cultivation is punishable by up to seven years in prison.

• Penalties are lowered for the cultivation of four to 25 plants to a maximum of 18 months and a $25,000 fine, but prosecutors have the option of charging cultivation in this range as an “indictable offense” (akin to a felony) punishable by up to five years in prison.

• Penalties are increased for the cultivation of more than 25 plants. For 26-50 plants, the penalty is a maximum of 10 years in prison, plus fines, and for more than 50 plants, 14 years in prison, plus fines.

• Penalties for trafficking remain unchanged, with the maximum sentence remaining life in prison, although not even the largest hard drug trafficker has received more than a 20-year sentence in recent years. Canadian drug trafficking laws do not differentiate between marijuana and other controlled substances.

• There are no provisions regarding medical marijuana.

The article notes, “While the Liberal proposal decreases formal sanctions for simple possession, in those considerable portions of Canada where possession busts are now not worth the bother for police, it potentially could actually increase enforcement.”

Dana Larsen, former editor of Cannabis Culture, was quoted in the article (as the president of the BC Marijuana Party at that time) as tepidly supportive but skeptical: “Decriminalization is a small step forward, but this law will not make things easier for Canada’s marijuana people. Here in Vancouver, now the police pretty much leave you alone or they just hassle you and take your stash. With the fines and ticketing, you end up with more punishment.”

At the time, Cannabis Culture published an article critical of the bill called “Canada’s decrim deception”, where renowned Canadian pot-specialist lawyer John Conroy says “Decriminalization isn’t the right word for the government’s new pot legislation,” and criticized the bill for deceptively continuing criminal records for pot offences.

The 2003 bill was never passed but similar legislation has been batted around by Liberal MP Keith Martin, and has also been criticized by some activists in the marijuana community and supported by others.

Ignatieff, has opposed marijuana policy reform in the past, saying in March of 2010 that “legalizing marijuana would create problems” with the United States and making this bizarre statement at another town-hall-stlye meeting:

“If I had to tell you as a parent or as someone who has spent his whole life working with young people, the last darn thing I want you to be doing is smoking marijuana. I want you to be out there digging a well, digging a ditch, getting a job, raising a family … doing stuff, instead of parking your life on the end of a marijuana cigarette.”

The Liberal leader noted at the time that he enjoys an occasional drink and didn’t seem to mind if his anti-weed stance made him appear conservative.

At this point, it is impossible to say how future legislation from the Liberals will look, but now is the time to apply pressure for a better decriminalization bill. Contact Liberal Party Leader Michael Ignatieff and (politely) tell him that you support the FULL decriminalization or legalization of marijuana, but won’t stand for sneaky, back-door legislation that may lead to increased enforcement – Email: [email protected] or call (613) 995-9364 for his office in Ottawa.

Though Ignatieff’s ideas for decrim may be just a small step forward or more of the same bad policies we already have, the Liberal’s picture of Canada’s future cannabis laws looks a lot prettier than Stephen Harper and the reigning Conservative government’s vision, which would bring mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana offences to Canada for the first time.

Bill S-10, the proposed Conservative drug legislation, includes mandatory sentences of 9 months in jail for growing as few as 6 plants, and 18 months for making and sharing pot cookies, hash, or other extracts.

Join other activists, herb smokers, and lovers of liberty and freedom this SATURDAY, OCTOBER 2 at Member of Parliament’s offices across the country for Canada-wide rallies against conservative drug laws to call attention to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative government’s Bill S-10.

Click here to put your MP’s office on the list at WhyProhibition.ca