December 10, 2009 – Canada’s Senate made a sensible amendment Wednesday to a politically motivated bill that would have seen people who grew as few as five marijuana plants serve a mandatory six-month jail term.
Accepting a proposal from a Liberal-dominated Senate committee, by a 49-43 margin the Senate watered down the proposed legislation by raising the number of marijuana plants grown to more than 201 plants, which would see judges use their own discretion in sentencing those found guilty of growing fewer than 200 pot plants.
Judicial discretion is a keystone to our justice system. Judges across the country hear the cases prosecutors make before them as well as hearing the reasons those growing marijuana doing so. There is no one-size-fits-all punishment that would encompass a judge’s reasons for the sentence they impose on a convicted marijuana grower.
Undoubtedly, some growers are involved in organized crime and dealing illegal drugs. A judge may not accept that a person who was growing as many as 200 plants was doing so for his or her own use.
Just as surely, some people growing five to 10 plants are not selling their harvests and a judge can hear the reasons why they feel compelled to grow their own pot.
The bottom line is the judge in the community hears both sides of the story and imposes a sentence they see fit. While a sentence for 10 plants may not be as harsh as a penalty for 50, given the circumstances under the current laws, a judge can weigh the factors surrounding a convicted person’s growing of marijuana.
The law, as proposed by the Conservative government, was nothing more than a political ploy to make them look tough on crime. What’s even worse is that Liberal MPs in the House of Commons voted in favour of this mandatory-minimum chicanery for fear that they would look soft on crime.
Did none of our honourable members examine what has happened south of us?
American critics of mandatory-minimum sentences warned MPs and Senators that these type of sentences have swamped prisons south of the border and the majority of those sentenced have not been drug dealers or those involved in organized crime. A disproportionate number of those now serving long prison terms in the U.S. for minor drug violations are addicts, the poor, the young and minorities.
Was there really a problem that new legislation needed to address?
Perhaps the Liberal-dominated Senate’s recommendation of 201 plants as being the threshold is too liberal but five plants is ridiculously punitive for those who grow marijuana for their own use, whether recreational or medicinal.
That’s what a judge can determine in a court of law and that’s what judicial discretion is meant for.
The sole intent of this proposed legislation is to appeal to the Conservative government’s base and look as if it’s being tough on crime. If the government wants to run roughshod over decades of common law, so be it. At least the optics are favourable to its supporters.
In the big picture, how much harm do small-time marijuana growers do?
If the government wants to demonstrate that it’s tough on crime, perhaps it should focus on other matters. Two crimes that have Canadians concerned far more than growing marijuana are child pornography and identity theft. While it’s difficult to compare the harm of one crime with another, there are far more pressing matters that should be dealt with before focusing on pot growers.
In a show of political theatrics on Wednesday, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson expressed contempt for the Senate’s decision to amend his proposed legislation.
The decision opens “the door to drug traffickers and people in the grow-op business to continue to evade prison time,” he said.
How would he know?
Cases have yet to come before an impartial judge who won’t be swayed by politics.