By David Bratzer
Why is the Vancouver Police Department trying to manipulate the Senate of Canada?
On December 8, one day before a key vote, the department issued a statement opposing minor amendments to Bill C-15. The proposed law would create mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offences. Numerous policy experts have criticized the bill, stating that it will do nothing to address the crime, addiction, disease, and death generated by the black market for illegal drugs.
A Senate committee studied the legislation and suggested a few modest changes. Inspector Brad Desmarais responded by announcing the amendments would “create a huge industry” of small marijuana grows designed to skirt the mandatory minimums.
It is true that the number of plants now required for a mandatory jail term has increased from the initial quantity of six, but this change will not affect residential areas. Another section of the bill already ensures that marijuana grows in those neighborhoods will result in a nine-month jail sentence, provided they pose a “potential public safety hazard”. This vague and broadly worded clause should be easy to prove in court, particularly as law-enforcement officials have spent years talking about the dangers of clandestine marijuana operations.
The provision regarding rental properties also remains intact. Canadians who live in basement suites or small apartments will receive a minimum prison sentence of nine months if they grow any number of marijuana plants—even one—for the purpose of trafficking. This will ensnare working folks and college students who can’t afford their own homes but still grow small amounts of cannabis for themselves and a few friends. Of course, these are the very people who have chosen to obtain their drug of choice in a manner that avoids contact with gangsters and organized crime.
Rank and file police officers will be saddled with investigating these micro-grows. Officers will put genuine police work on hold in order to deal with civil matters presented in the form of “intelligence” about the drug trade. For example, a landlord might be looking for an excuse to kick out his tenants and increase the rent. He will call the police about a couple of innocuous plants sitting on the window sill. Another man seeking custody of his children will demand officers investigate the tiny grow in his ex-wife’s new home.
Clearly, the amended Bill C-15 still casts a wide net against small producers who participate in one of British Columbia’s largest and most profitable industries.
Yet the modified bill is not good enough for Inspector Desmarais. He wants the government to have even more power and control over the lives of ordinary citizens. His ideal justice system would force a judge to send an elderly retired couple to jail for six months. Their crime? Profiting from seven or eight marijuana plants grown in the backwoods of their own rural property.
This is not a wise or effective use of criminal law. Every Canadian who cares about the principles of liberty and limited government should be deeply concerned about this intrusion by the state. And we should all be worried about the tax burden that will result from increasing marijuana enforcement during a time of deficit spending.
Illegal marijuana grow operations are a real problem, but the solution is to regulate and tax the industry. One can only hope that someday a major political party will have the courage to fight an election on this issue, particularly as national polls consistently show that more than 50 percent of Canadians want to end cannabis prohibition. Grassroots support is likely even higher in British Columbia and Quebec—two key battlegrounds in any future election campaign.
In the meantime, we are stuck with ham-handed intrusions from police agencies hawking a drug policy that has failed for decades. The VPD’s media release came after the federal minister of justice, Rob Nicholson, called on the Opposition leader to “lean on these people” in the Senate. The vote passed anyway, 49 to 43, in spite of the last-minute lobbying from law enforcement.
When will public-safety organizations realize that Canada needs a drug policy based on ethics and evidence, rather than political opportunity?
David Bratzer is a police officer in British Columbia. He also manages the blog for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. The opinions expressed in his essay are entirely his own.