By Michael Spratt
Today, I appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health to testify on Bill C-45—the government's new legislation that will sort of, kind of, legalize marijuana.
When the bill was introduced in April I had some major concerns—and I still do.
There is some promise in Bill C-45, but there are also serious flaws and room for improvement.
Bill C-45 does not go far enough in removing marijuana from the Criminal Code, and this failing diminishes the bill’s potentially positive results.
Bill C-45 is an unnecessary, complex piece of legislation that leaves intact the criminalization of marijuana in many circumstances.
Under Bill C-45 an adult who possesses over 30 grams of marijuana in public is a criminal. A youth who possesses more than five grams of marijuana is a criminal. An 18-year old who passes a joint to his 17-year old friend is a criminal. An adult who grows five marijuana plants or possesses a plant 101 centimetres tall is a criminal.
This continued criminalization is inconsistent with a rational and evidence-based criminal justice policy and will only serve to reduce some of the positive effects of Bill C-45.
The disproportionate effect of continued youth criminalization is an anathema to criminal justice policy. Nowhere else in the Criminal Code is a youth criminalized for an act that is legal for an adult.
Further, Bill C-45 contains no measures to address the tens of thousands of Canadians who have been stigmatized through the war on drugs' counter productive imposition of criminal records, nor does Bill C-45 take the opportunity apply evidence-based policy or Charter values to Canada’s criminal pardon rules.
Currently, an 18-year old, first time offender, who is convicted of simple possession of marijuana the day before Bill C-45 comes into force will be required to wait five years before they are even eligible to apply for a record suspension. That needs to change.
Canadian drug policy and legislation is in need of reform. The war on drugs has been a complete and abject failure. The social and financial cost of drug criminalization outweighs any illusory benefit. Every year, scores of young men and women are killed over relatively small amounts of marijuana—killed because marijuana is illegal, making it the focus of a vastly profitable and violent black market.
Bill C-45 may limit, but it does not end this problem.
Continued marijuana criminalization imposes unreasonable penalties on a relatively low-risk vice. In the real world, a drug record means limited employment opportunities, travel difficulties, and many other devastating collateral consequences.
These costs, more often than not, are borne by the most vulnerable members of our communities.
Only full legalization, decriminalization, and regulation of marijuana will truly protect society and remove the unfairness, racism, and over-intrusion by state into an activity that—in the context of existing criminal laws—is relatively harmless.
You can read my full submissions below or download them, here.
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