Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/6/2009 (4484 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The federal Conservative government's law-and-order agenda took another step forward this month with the passage of a bill that will require minimum mandatory sentences for people convicted of trafficking in even relatively small amounts of marijuana.
At least that is what the Tories and their allies in the Liberal party appear to believe. Critics such as the federal NDP and Quebec's Bloc Quebecois, as well as a good many other Canadians who believe the time has come to be realistic, rather than hysterical, about illegal drugs think differently.
While the get-tough-on-drugs movement does spring from a public hysteria, it is driven by politics. Both the Conservatives and their Liberal collaborators understand that in Toronto and Vancouver and, to a lesser extent, in Montreal, law-and-order has become a panic issue among the general population. Drugs, in the popular mind, are linked to guns and guns are linked to serious crime which is linked to gangs linked to murder and drugs. Any political party that appears to have the answer to cleaning up the streets has a willing audience in these vote-rich areas. But it's not an idea that works very well. In fact, there is mounting evidence that in this day and age, mandatory minimum sentences and provisions such as "three-strikes-and-you're-out" laws don't do much except swell prison populations anyway.
The new legislation, if it passes the Senate, will deny judges the discretion of jailing drug traffickers or not. Trafficking will consist of possessing a mere five marijuana plants, or even of sharing weed with your friends. If police enforce the law -- and police usually do -- the jails and prisons will fill to bursting, as they are with drug users and dealers in the U.S., but the Conservatives and Liberals have no plans to expand prisons to accommodate these new criminals.
That will exacerbate conditions in overcrowded prisons, but since marijuana burst on the popular scene in the 1960s, when possession of a single joint could bring a life sentence in some American jurisdictions and almost guaranteed a jail sentence in Canadian ones, it has been proven over and over again that harsh marijuana laws do nothing to prevent the control of the drug. It is widely popular today, but because of the political cowardice of governments on every level, it is uncontrolled and unregulated.
The sale of alcohol and tobacco is strictly legislated, but marijuana is freely available to any child who has the money to buy it from any criminal who chooses to sell it in back alleys or on school corners. Laws like this do not fight or eliminate crime. They accomplish nothing but to create criminals where they did not exist before.