A Vancouver marijuana-legalization advocate claims Bill S-10, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s latest attempt to stiffen penalties for drug crimes, would cost the federal government between $2 billion and $5 billion a year.
“We did an economic analysis based on the number of people charged in a given year and the average sentence they received and the sentence they would receive under a mandatory minimum, and we applied those numbers to known costs per prisoner in jail,” Jacob Hunter, policy director for the Beyond Prohibition Foundation, told the Straight via cellphone from Toronto, where he is campaigning to free jailed “Prince of Pot” Marc Emery.
Bill S-10, called the Penalties for Organized Drug Crime Act, would amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and make changes to various other laws. It would usher in mandatory minimum penalties for drugs such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana. The maximum sentence for marijuana production would be increased from seven to 14 years.
The government bill sits at second reading in the Senate, where it was introduced last month. Due to Harper’s proroguing of Parliament last year, S-10’s previous incarnation, Bill C-15, died on the order paper.
Unlike C-15, S-10 contains no language around mandatory minimum sentences for the cultivation of less than five marijuana plants.
However, according to Hunter, there is a potential loophole in Section 4 of the bill that could leave someone found baking a pot cookie “for the purpose of trafficking” facing an 18-month minimum sentence.
“It’s an attack on low-level offences,” Hunter said of S-10. “Every time these bills have been tried in the United States they have massively increased prison populations, massively increased cost to government, and have no effect on drug use and availability. To be perfectly honest and not hyperbolic, there is nothing about this bill that does anything other than raise costs and raise crime.”
Jeet-Kei Leung, spokesperson for the B.C. Compassion Club Society, told the Straight by phone, “Once again there are going to be dire consequences if this bill comes through at a number of different levels.”