Tory pot law is too harsh

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Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson accused the Liberals Thursday as being "soft on crime" for refusing to support a bill, passed by the Senate, that would throw growers of as few as six marijuana plants for trafficking purposes in jail for six months. His chest-thumping is unlikely to convince most Canadians that Michael Ignatieff is running the country to ruin. Increasingly Canadians are personally acquainted with weed.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/02/2011 (4203 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson accused the Liberals Thursday as being “soft on crime” for refusing to support a bill, passed by the Senate, that would throw growers of as few as six marijuana plants for trafficking purposes in jail for six months. His chest-thumping is unlikely to convince most Canadians that Michael Ignatieff is running the country to ruin. Increasingly Canadians are personally acquainted with weed.

Over the last 25 years, Canadians have grown used to the idea of pot as a benign drug. Most either have smoked or personally know people who smoke. Despite this, the Tories are going after pot as part of a strategy unveiled in 2007 to cut illegal drug use in Canada through prevention, treatment and punishment. The latter thrust is the impetus for the government’s attempts to introduce mandatory minimum sentences to the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Many Canadians may be on side with minimum sentencing, which effectively takes discretion out of the hands of judges, for the targeting of pernicious drugs, growers and traffickers whose work enrich the coffers of organized crime. Those organizations’ tentacles reach to marijuana grow-ops, but they are not the home-based potted plants caught up in Mr. Nicholson’s law.

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The Harper government’s bill, introduced in its third iteration by the Senate, goes too far to go after two-bit growers or sellers of a substance widely seen as the equivalent, in good and evil, of alcohol. It was largely for that reason that not long ago Liberal governments mused about decriminalizing weed.

The Senate bill is among various federal tougher sentencing reforms that will dramatically hike prison costs — Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page has estimated the elimination of credit for pretrial detention alone can cost up to $10 billion over five years.

Mr. Ignatieff says he’s joining the Bloc and NDP to defeat an overly punitive law, that had been introduced twice before — the Liberals had amended an earlier version, to target larger growers, but it died upon prorogation of Parliament.

Going after small-time growers puts Mr. Nicholson’s government out of sync with public sentiment. He would be hard-pressed to prove what evil grows from a clutch of leafy greens in a neighbour’s spare room. The Harper government has made clear that decriminalization of pot is nowhere near its to-do list, but it can easily bring some reason to its drive for mandatory minimums by taking small growers out of its sights.

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