Bill C-15 could fill Canadian prisons with drug offenders

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      On March 2, the Pew Center on the States, a Washington, D.C.–based think tank, released a report on the staggering growth of the American correctional system.

      Entitled One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections, the report noted that “sentencing and release laws passed in the 1980s and 1990s put so many more people behind bars that last year the incarcerated population reached 2.3 million and, for the first time, one in 100 adults was in prison or jail.”

      It also cited the tremendous increase in the number of people on probation or parole, such that “combined with those in prison and jail, a stunning 1 in every 31 adults, or 3.2 percent, is under some form of correctional control.”

      Why is this relevant to Canada?

      “We only need to go south of the border and see a nation that enacted mandatory minimums related to drug offences from the mid-1980s on,” criminologist Susan Boyd told the Georgia Straight. “It didn’t reduce violence and drug use. So here we are saying, ”˜We’re going to do this.’ ”

      Boyd—an associate professor at UVic and research fellow at the Centre for Addictions Research of B.C.—was referring to the reintroduction in Parliament by the Conservative government of a bill that proposes mandatory minimum jail sentences for drug offenders.

      If passed into law, Bill C-15 would, among its other provisions, throw people caught with one marijuana plant into the slammer for a minimum of six months. If growing a single plant is done on a property that belongs to another person or in an area where it may present a hazard to children, minimum jail time is nine months.

      Worse, the bill seeks to increase the maximum penalty for this particular offence to 14 years.

      Vancouver’s so-called Prince of Pot, Marc Emery, who is fighting extradition on charges of selling marijuana seeds to American growers, is a potential U.S. prison statistic.

      Emery was handing out leaflets condemning drug prohibition, along with his wife, Jodie, on the south side of the city when the Straight asked him about Bill C-15. “Anything that puts more people in jail for drugs is going to fill prisons,” he said. “It’s a very expensive and failed policy that will only bring us more misery.”

      The Pew Center on the States report pointed out that many states in the U.S. “appear to have reached a ”˜tipping point’ where additional incarceration will have little if any effect on crime”.

      In Washington state, which shares a border with B.C., the report stated, “from 1980 to 2001, the benefit-to-cost ratio for drug offenders plummeted from $9.22 to $0.37.

      “That is, for every one dollar invested in new prison beds for drug offenders, state taxpayers get only 37 cents in averted crime,” it noted. “An updated analysis from 2006 found that incarceration of offenders convicted of violent offenses remained a positive net benefit, while property and drug offenders offered negative returns.”

      Conservative Abbotsford MP Ed Fast deflected criticism that mandatory jail times haven’t worked in the U.S.

      “First of all, on the issue of deterrence there’s contradicting evidence,” Fast told the Straight. “I don’t base my support for the legislation on the deterrent effect. I base it on the prophylactic effect of the legislation. Prophylactic means taking repeat, violent offenders out of our communities for longer periods of time.”

      Bill C-15 is a reincarnation of Bill C-26, which the Conservatives introduced in November 2007.

      In February 2008, a few months after Bill C-26 was tabled in Parliament, Boyd started sending Prime Minister Stephen Harper a weekly letter in an attempt to educate the Conservative leader about harm reduction and drug regulation.

      Boyd did this for a year, and she sent her 52nd and final letter in early February this year. Bill C-15 was introduced on February 27, a day after the Conservatives filed Bill C-14, which toughens penalties for gang-associated violent activities.

      As an educator, Boyd has this to say about mentoring Harper: “The prime minister gets a failing grade on drug policy.”

      The economics of prisons in Canada

      > Total correctional-services expenditures in 2005-06: almost $3 billion

      > Share spent on custodial services or prisons: 71 percent

      > Associated policing and court costs in 2005-06: more than $10 billion

      > Number of correctional facilities in Canada in 2005-06: 192

      > Annual cost of incarcerating a federal female prisoner in
      2004-05: $150,000 to $250,000

      > Annual cost of incarcerating a federal male prisoner in 2004-05: $87,665

      > Daily cost of incarcerating a provincial prisoner in 2004-05: $141.78

      > Daily cost of alternatives such as probation, bail supervision,
      and community supervision: $5 to $25

      Source: prisonjustice.ca

      Comments

      63 Comments

      jeffc

      Mar 26, 2009 at 6:59pm

      A few years ago Vancouver's police chief suggested that the city would turn a blind eye to activities such as growing a marijuana plant or two in one's home (a plant or two, not a grow op). Now the Conservative Party is moving legislation which would carry a six month minimum sentence for doing that. Ed Fast's comment that "We’re not going after the marijuana users. We’re going after the guys who really present an ongoing danger to our community" is contradicted by the presence of a minimum sentence for one single plant. This is not enlightened legislation. The Liberal Party should not support this Bill.

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      renegademag

      Mar 27, 2009 at 1:48pm

      Living in the US I can tell you that NO ONES behavior will change with this law. This is a law that sounds good but the details are horrible. Ed Fast "If there’s a sale or production or growing of drugs that occurs and violence is present, we will put those guys behind bars"

      What if there isn't any violence? It seems to me that the law says if you own a plant regardless of violence you'll be sent through a system with no appeal or understanding. My brother spent 16 months in Federal Prison because of Mandatory Minimums. He had NEVER once been in trouble and he had bought Sudafed. When confronted by police in a parking lot he admitted he bought it to give to a friend to make meth. That's all he did and then spent 16 months in prison for that. I'm not sure how anyone can look at the American system and say "Looks good to me". There is NO evidence that mandatory minimums stop anything. How many people are debating the possible legal outcomes of their behavior? How many stoners have an attorney to advise them on legal issues everyday all day? No one even knows what the consequences are until it happens so how can they be deterred? If it's any sign of what happened in the US it's a shift to a brutal dehumanizing system designed to punish not correct. And a final note to the supporters, US states are reversing their failed mandatory minimums, see New York State for evidence of it's failure. Canada, be a better country and use our failure as your lesson.

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      debhay@shaw.ca

      Mar 28, 2009 at 4:04am

      In the words of Dr. Gabor Mate, "This is not a War on Drugs, this is a War on the Drug user". Harper's plan of action is to line his pockets while creating oppressive social housing. Perhaps the prisons can have work camps that produces 'Say no to Drugs' t-shirts to rehabilitate the vilified citizen, and remind everyone that the social fabric is made by old school government.

      Valborg

      Mar 28, 2009 at 4:58pm

      The people who are supplying themselves are not financially supporting all the organized gangs growing marijuana for everyone else. As for the war on drugs, what about all the nasty prescription drugs people take that have very negative side effects and often lead to use of hard drugs.

      prettyclassy

      Mar 30, 2009 at 9:48pm

      People are going to realize very soon who's side the government really is on and their not going to be happy when their son just got jailed, life ruined, over being caught smoking a jay on a sunny day in the park. If marijuana was legal I'd never drink alcohol and I'd be a much healthier person. With the way the economy is changing, it could be a great way to create jobs and stimulate the economy by taxing it, and think of the tourism. Marijuana will turn angry violent alcoholics into peaceful contemplative members of society, perhaps the kind of people that actually think of what's going on around them as opposed to being mindless worker drones, maybe that's why the government doesn't want to legalize it. My friends and I have been caught by cops a couple times, and they will take it and say "I have no problem with you smoking this at home", if that's the case, why can't I go to a bar, watch the hockey game, and smoke a joint?

      Legalization will never happen, and people will realize that democracy is a scam. If the bottom line is money, then it would appear to me that someone is getting bought off to keep it illegal, because the price of marijuana would go down if it were legal. Wouldn't surprise me to learn these politicians are just puppets for gangs and corporations.

      fatherhood

      Apr 3, 2009 at 5:42am

      Why are we not addressing the fact that the American College of Physicans has sent it's own position paper to the American administration asking for the re-classification of marijuana? They have seen the benefit THC has shown when it was administered to cancer patients. A 50% reduction in cancerous tumors. Even they are being denied access to what they describe as research grade marijuana.

      Do you really believe the ACP would attach their name to marijuana if it were not so.

      How much "safer" will Canadians feel as teachers, doctors, politicians, carpenters and on and on go to prison for as little as 1 plant.

      We already have seen what mandatory minimum sentences have done to the Americans. 30 plus years, and 100's of billions of dollars later, nothing was achieved. Now they are repealing these same laws that have shown to be a complete failure. THIS IS NOT A BILL MENT FOR A CARTEL, it will however cost smoker and non-smoker alike, millions apon millions to enforce and prosecute.

      How sad, that as the Americans begin a real conversation on the topic of marijuana reform, we go backward. How is it that this government, chooses to ignore scientists, economists, and criminologists, and foremost, the failed model of a 30 year old war on drugs in the United States in favor of fooling Canadians that this policy will somehow have a different outcome here.

      I have no words to decribe how hopeless I feel as a Canadian under the Harper administration. The only harm created, as the plant has been proven basically harmless, no addiction, no chance of overdose, no gateway drug, is from the ideology that continues to surround it, and the way in which Stephen Harper chooses to punish anyone who uses it.

      I fear for the research that will be put off for years, and feel completely hopeless for all the lives that will be destroyed by these insane policies.

      Where are we going and what have we become. I can only hope that reason and common sense prevail, but if the Liberals continue to back such foolishness, we will just have to foot the cost, ruin the wrong lives and come to our senses after we like America have wasted 100's of millions of much needed dollars.:

      Pedron

      May 3, 2009 at 8:50am

      I support the decriminalization of marijuana, and possibly other drugs as well. However, I do not think that marijuana use is necessarily harmless. A friend of mine who has smoked pot for almost 40 years recently had an severe allergic reaction after smoking a joint. She broke out in painful hives and is now on strong steroid medication and antihistamines to keep the inflammation down. We all differ in our physiological makeup and for some people this substance is a health risk. What we need is a sober and realistic approach to drugs such as marijuana so that people can make an informed decision as to whether they should use this drug or not. The current climate is polarized between two opposing factions, each side representing an extreme view that does not properly take into account the merits or dangers of marijuana use. We need the laws changed to decriminalize this substance, but we as well need a campaign to educate the public as to the potential consequences of its use. BTW, are those allergic shiners under Mark Emery's eyes?

      Sir Les

      Jun 5, 2009 at 6:54pm

      It's all about Big Oil, Big MONEY, And pointing the finger at a select group, to make police have something to do with their pittiful lives...

      Here is why I say this...Marijuana and hemp are a fuel source that is renewable and easily grown in vast amounts under hydroponics, which could solve the problem of Global warming,
      Growing it comsumes c02, and makes oxygen, while it feeds the animals good healthy food, which results in healthy animals, and then our food chain is also healthier!
      it filters the waters, and soils, and adds a mycellium to the soil to make a fine nitted connection to all plants.
      And in that they control the soils bacteria and viruses, so the enviroments are safer!

      And finally Ethanol, a renewable resource tha can be made from hemp and marijuana!...which stands to be far better/cleaner burning than fossil fuels!

      In the days of liquide gasses, alcohols, solar energy, and kenetics...why can't Canada make a eco friendly vehicle?
      Because they got their heads stuck up The United States Ass!

      Bill c-15 and any other bill that removes a Gift God has Given us to use wisely, is anti God, Anti Christ, Anti Eden!!!!!
      Sir Les

      p

      Jun 10, 2009 at 9:32am

      If the government was truly after the drug cartels, they would leave the laws as they are, or completely legalize marijuana. But they're not after the cartels, they're after average Canadians. Honestly, if every Canadian who smoked marijuana was arrested, there would not be enough "free" citizens to pay Stevie's wages. Passing bill C-15 will not change people's attitudes. If the people want to smoke marijuana, they will continue to do so. All this bill will do is make more criminals, and put more money in the pockets of the drug dealers. Our only hope is if the senate truly believes marijuana should be legalized, they will not let this senseless piece of legislation pass.

      smokey

      Jun 10, 2009 at 7:40pm

      Harper is an asshole. But if the Liberals back him on this I'm never voting for them again.