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Tories Reveal Mandatory Jail Terms For Growing Marijuana

Smokin Moose

Fallen Cannabis Warrior
OTTAWA -- The Conservative government unveiled legislation Tuesday to create the first mandatory prison terms in Canada for people convicted of trafficking illicit drugs, including those who grow marijuana for profit.

The proposed changes are the newest chapter in the Harper government's sweeping crackdown on crime, which includes bills before Parliament to toughen rules for repeat violent offenders, to keep accused young offenders in jail before their trials, and now, to impose automatic prison penalties on serious drug offenders.

Canada's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act has no mandatory prison sentences. Judges use their own discretion about whether to send drug pushers and growers to jail.

The new bill proposes:

- - A mandatory six-month sentence for growing as little as one marijuana plant for the purposes of trafficking, sure to be felt in B.C., where marijuana-growing operations are common and fines are the usual penalty.

- - A two-year mandatory term for running a marijuana-growing operation of 500 plants or more.

- - A doubling of the maximum prison term for cannabis production from seven to 14 years.

- - A one-year mandatory jail term for dealing drugs while armed with a weapon, or for dealing drugs in support of organized crime.

- - A two-year mandatory term for dealing cocaine, heroin or methamphetamines to young people, or for dealing them near a school or any place young people are known to frequent.

The Conservatives also propose to allow judges to exempt certain offenders from mandatory prison terms, on condition that they complete drug treatment programs.

Drug treatment courts are designed to help non-violent offenders who have trafficked in small amounts of drugs in order to support their addictions overcome their drug habits.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said Tuesday the changes in the sentencing provisions are designed to target people the government considers at the root of the drug supply problem: Large-scale growers and traffickers, organized crime groups that finance their operations through drugs, and people who push drugs on children and teenagers.

"We've made it very clear that those individuals who are in the business of exploiting other people through organized crime and other aggravating factors -- through this bill, we want to get serious with those individuals and send the right message to them ... you will be doing jail time," he said. "We want to put organized crime out of business."

B.C. Attorney-General Wally Oppal agreed a strong message has to be sent to drug growers and traffickers that their trade will not be condoned, noting that most dealers tend to get off lightly.

Fewer than one in seven people convicted of growing marijuana in B.C. between 2003 and 2005 was sentenced to any time in jail, according to court statistics provided to The Vancouver Sun.

Growers were even less likely to face jail time in Vancouver, where fewer than one in 13 received a jail sentence. Indeed, the majority of convicted marijuana growers in B.C. -- 59 per cent -- received only probation or a conditional sentence to be served at home.

"The present sentencing regime has not been a deterrent to the production and trafficking of illegal drugs," Oppal said. "At one time trafficking netted people significant time, but now the sentences are much lower.

"The message will be that if you're going to get involved in the growing end of it, you'd better think twice because there will be a significant price to pay."

Although Oppal said he's supportive of the legislation, he was concerned it will take away the discretion of judges in sentencing offenders.

Vancouver's "Prince of Pot," Marc Emery, said he was alarmed by the news, and it will clog the courts and jails.

"You can never beat organized crime as long as you have prohibition," Emery said. "If we just legalized these drugs and distributed them to addicts, we'd see an evaporation of organized crime."

Eugene Oscapella, a criminal lawyer who teaches drug policy at the University of Ottawa, said decades of experience with tough, mandatory penalties in the United States have proven that the threat of prison terms doesn't deter drug traffickers or growers.

Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2007 The Vancouver Sun
Contact: sunletters@png.canwest.com
Website: canada.com
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