Liberal Party Opposes Bill S-10 and Mandatory Minimums for Marijuana

CANNABIS CULTURE – The Liberal Party of Canada has broken its silence and officially announced its opposition to Bill S-10, the Conservative legislation that includes mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana offences.

The move comes after recent battles in the House of Commons over revelations that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet is withholding background studies related to government legislation and growing prison costs.

Here’s the press release from the Liberal Party website:

Liberals oppose Bill S-10 as Conservatives hide mounting prison costs

The Liberal Party of Canada announced today that it will oppose Bill S-10 over concerns that the bill disproportionately targets youth and would cause an explosion of costs to build new mega-prisons.

“This bill isn’t tough on crime, it’s dumb on crime,” said Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. “We’re all in favour of cracking down on serious criminals, but this bill doesn’t distinguish between massive grow-ops and a first-time offender with a small amount.

“What’s more, the Conservatives won’t tell us what the fiscal implications of this bill are. How many billions will it cost? How many mega-prisons will have to be built? For these reasons, we just can’t support it,” he said.

The Conservatives continue to stonewall opposition parties on the cost of this legislation despite repeated requests. The Parliamentary Budget Office pegged the cost of just one crime bill as $10-$13 billion after the Conservatives told Parliament it would cost $90 million. This week, Liberal Finance Critic Scott Brison accused the government of contempt of Parliament for refusing to disclose prison spending.

“Canadians know that spending billions of dollars on U.S.-style mega-prisons to lock up young people will only produce more hardened criminals,” said Liberal Public Safety Critic Mark Holland. “It’s a failed American crime policy, and it just doesn’t work.”

A disproportionate number of Canadians aged 18-25 would be harmed by the marijuana provisions of Bill S-10, which proposes a mandatory six-month sentence for possessing as few as six marijuana plants – the same sentence that would be applied to a trafficker with 200 plants. Liberal Senators tried to raise the minimum number of plants to 20, but Conservative Senators refused amendments to the Bill.

“Liberals support stiff sentences for large drug producers and traffickers – but we won’t support a bill that can’t tell the difference between criminals running grow-ops and mistakes often made by our young people,” said Liberal Justice Critic Marlene Jennings. “The government has shown no willingness to accept substantive amendments, so we’re sending them back to the drawing board.”

Conservative Senators also refused to amend provisions that will remove judicial discretion over minor drug offences by automatically invoking mandatory minimums for those with minor drug convictions in the last 10 years.

Canada’s churches, the Canadian Bar Association, the Assembly of First Nations, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and health professionals have all spoken out against the bill.

Until now, Ignatieff and the Liberals had seemingly put marijuana policy on the back-burner, saying the issue wasn’t a priority, while indicating they may support a form of marijuana decriminalization in the future.

Opposing Bill S-10, which was quietly passed by the Senate in December, is a huge step in the right direction from the Liberal Party.

Please contact the Liberal Party and show your support for this decision.

Read more about Bill S-10 and mandatory minimum sentences coming to Canada.

Drug-offence bill likely to go up in smoke as Liberals change position

The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — The Conservative government’s controversial bill that would impose mandatory jail time for offenders caught growing a handful of marijuana plants appears headed to the trash can.

The Liberals announced Wednesday they will not support Bill S-10, which has already been passed by the Senate.

“I’m very disappointed that they have had this complete flip-flop,” Justice Minister Rob Nicholson told Postmedia News.

The Liberals, who supported previous versions of the bill, now say it would excessively punish some people for minor offences and would cost too much to implement because it will jam prisons that are already filled to the brink. The Conservatives have said they will spend $2 billion over the next five years to expand prisons.

“We just think this is bad criminal justice policy,” Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff told reporters Wednesday. “It’s going to cost this country billions of dollars. We think it’s the wrong way to go.”

The NDP and Bloc Quebecois have always been against the bill, first introduced in 2008, but the Liberals helped the Tories pass it through the House of Commons and onto the Senate in December 2009. Liberals in the upper chamber watered the bill down and it was in its final stages when Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament, killing the legislation.

A new bill — closer to the original version that ignored the Liberal amendment — was introduced in the Senate in May 2010.

The Liberal senators tried again to amend the bill at the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee but failed after losing their majority in the upper chamber. The bill passed on Dec. 13, 2010.

It’s now in the hands of MPs and on Wednesday the government put S-10 on notice, meaning it could be raised for debate in the next few days. That move prompted the Liberals to announce their new position, which effectively seals the fate of the bill and will force the Tories to start from scratch, again.

Nicholson, however, isn’t prepared to accept that the bill is headed for defeat.

He’s hoping enough Liberals will break party ranks and defy Ignatieff, siding instead with the government. “I’m hoping that they will lean on him to get this bill passed. So I’m not giving up.”

While the Liberals say the bill could unfairly target young people, Nicholson said the proposed changes to the existing laws are aimed squarely at drug traffickers and organized crime.

The bill would impose a mandatory minimum sentence of six months in jail for an offender convicted of growing between five and 201 marijuana plants for the purpose of trafficking. The more plants that are grown, the longer the minimum sentence.

The bill also proposes a series of other changes to current drug laws, including mandatory sentences for drug crimes committed near schools.

“This bill sends out the right message and the idea that we shouldn’t be jailing people who are selling drugs around schools or people who are bringing drugs into Canada is something I completely disagree with,” said Nicholson. “And I think most Canadians agree would agree with me.”

Critics of automatic sentencing say the measures will flood prisons that are already overcrowded, will strip judges of their discretion to impose sentences as they see fit and are ineffective in reducing drug use and improving public safety.

“It’s going to add huge amounts of money to Canadian prison costs, it’s going to target young people, a guy who gets messed up with Tylenol 3 or has six marijuana plants,” Ignatieff said. “We just think this is not the right way to go for Canadian justice policy. It follows a failed American model so we’re going to vote against it.”