Canada: With Conservative Government Pushing Tough Crime Package, Liberal MP Responds With Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

The Conservative government of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has introduced a crime and drugs package it had hoped to quickly push through Parliament, but with opposition, the Liberals stalling and the New Democratic Party (NDP) opposing, passage is starting to look much less certain. Meanwhile, a leading Liberal MP has introduced a bill to decriminalize marijuana possession.
Libby Davies
The pair of government bills, C-14 and C-15, would impose mandatory minimum sentences on some violent and gang crimes and on some drug crimes, respectively. The latter would impose a mandatory minimum sentence of one year for someone possessing as little as one marijuana plant, if that plant were to be determined to be destined for distribution.

The Conservatives are hoping to capitalize on a spate of highly-publicized, prohibition-related crimes of gang violence in the Vancouver area to push their agenda, but it is starting to look like the Liberals and NDP won't go along despite earlier indications they would not fight the Conservative package.

But last Friday, NDP Vancouver East MP Libby Davies lambasted C-15 during a lengthy parliamentary speech, and on Wednesday, Liberal Health Promotion critic Dr. Keith Martin, MP for Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca, BC, announced he would introduce a bill for the decriminalization of marijuana this week.

"The 'war on drugs' approach, characterized by zero tolerance, has been a complete failure," said Martin. "It has not reduced the rate of violent crime or drug use, nor has it saved money or lives. To realize meaningful change on our city streets, we must decriminalize the possession of small amounts of pot. This will cause drug abuse to be addressed in the public health system, rather than through the courts. It will sever the connection between organized crime and drug users. This bill is bad news for criminal gangs because it would collapse the demand for drug product," Martin argued.

"In the medical profession our first principle is 'do no harm,'" Martin continued. "We are actually doing terrible harm if we continue to address substance abuse uniquely as a criminal issue from the federal level. The blinders have to come off; we have to take a medical perspective if we are going to turn this thing around."

That would be fine with MP Davies, who serves as the New Dems' drug policy critic. Citing statistics showing a large increase in the number of Canadians who reported having used illegal drugs in the past 15 years, Davies called prohibitionist policies "completely ineffective" and pointed to the US as a bad example. "We only have to look south of the border, where the so-called war on drugs has unleashed billions and billions of dollars and where we see massive numbers of people incarcerated, to see what a failure it is."

Citing successes with Canada's four pillar approach -- prevention, treatment, law enforcement, harm reduction -- Davies said the Conservative bill would be "a radical departure" and that the Conservatives were playing the politics of fear. There is no question that it is the core of the Conservative government's agenda around crime. It is about the political optics. I have called it the politics of fear."

Instead of responding with heavy-handed sentencing measures, why not go in a different direction, Davies asked. "We dealt with the marijuana decriminalization bill [when the Liberals were in power]. I know there are members in the House who were on the committee. We heard there were 600,000 Canadians who had a record for possession of marijuana. Why are we not at least beginning there and saying we will decriminalize and then legalize marijuana? We would begin at a place where there is strong public support. We should change the regime we have."

Davies also called out the Liberals to help defeat C-15. "I am very interested to see what the Liberal caucus does with this bill," she said. "I hope that we can defeat it. I hope we can say it is not the right way to go. The NDP does not think the bill should go through. It is not based on good public policy. It is going to be harmful and expensive. It is really time to embark on a common sense approach and accept the overwhelming evidence that the war on drugs has caused more death, pain, harm and crime than we can bear. It is time to stop it."

The mandatory minimum bills are now before the House of Commons Justice and Human Rights Committee. No hearings or vote have yet been scheduled.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Keep an eye: Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights

You can follow the progress of the mandatory minimum bills in committee here:

Good news

Well that is good news, and it is about time we got back on the decrimilisation bandwagon again here in Canada. We came pretty close in 2000 [yr] but that bill died when Parliament recessed. Parliament will recess again in two months, so we will have to push hard for this to happen. Go Dr. Martin Go!!

It is also a bit ironic that the response to PM Harper's sad old "tough on drugs" efforts have been met with not only resistance but now this bill.

The bottom line is that prohibition is what enables the organised crime gangs to make money off pot, and ending prohibition takes it away from them.

Regulate it, tax it, save the economy!

On that note, Obama was recently asked if he thought legalising pot and taxing sales of it would be a good way to stimulate the US economy, but he just snickered as if it were a joke, and said no. Bummer, Obama > Obummerama.

Letter To Keith martin

[email protected]
RE: Bill C-359 (to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession)

I commend you for at least moving in the right direction, but this proposed bill to “decriminalize” marijuana falls painfully short of the real need.

“Decriminalize” is a non-word meaning a non-thing. Something is either legal or it isn't. Alcohol wasn't “decriminalized”, it was regulated.

The late science fiction/comedy writer Douglas Adams, in his book “The Meaning of Liff” defines the made up noun “Huby” as; “A half-erection large enough to be a publicly embarrassing bulge in the trousers, not large enough to be of any use to anybody.” This is what this bill is.

Did gays accept “fines” or “treatment” as a half-way measure to recognition of their rights? No.

Will this bill do anything to stop gangsters? No, because pot has to come from somewhere, and if it can't be grown or sold legally, they will still control the market and profit enormously from it.

Allow two plants? Not everyone wants to bother growing, and two plants won't be enough for medical users who already have enough trouble with Health Canada's onerous and dysfunctional license program. Do we restrict how many tomato plants people have in their back yards? No.

A better plan would be full legalization. No “decrim”, no referendums (because the public is so hopelessly misinformed that they cannot be trusted with such an important issue), and no more messing around. We need full legalization and we need it now. Not because it is popular, but because it is the right thing to do. All science, history, and common sense supports this.

Russell Barth
Federally Licensed Medical Marijuana User
Patients Against Ignorance and Discrimination on Cannabis

Russel Barth's points generally apply to the US also

The main things I'd add are that insipid decrim laws don't just fail to stop gangsters, they create and/or support them. Decrim laws also support and create the forces of government oppression (e.g., DEA and state drug police) and the rest of the "drug abuse" industrial complex.

IMO, decrim like California's "magic ounce" law of the 70s has been a major factor in preventing repeal of prohibitionary laws and creating a big split between typical users and growers/dealers strongly supporting the growth of the violent big business drug commerce that younger Americans seem to take for granted. I don't want to overstate the bad effects of the early decrim laws, suggest decrim laws aren't often good now or exagerate the importance of early decrim laws which certainly didn't occur in some historical vacuum.

Even if decrim was half recognition of our rights it would still be half deprivation of our rights. Our Constitution has a Bill Of Rights not a Bill Of Half-Rights and some later amendments significantly increased the scope and effectiveness of Constitutional rights laws.Decrim is rather like the Containment or State Balancing anti-slavery positions of the 1850s with Repeal being more like the Abolition position. We don't need to ask for half measures, we need to demand our full rights.

Hurray for Dr. Martin

Let's be thankful that there is sanity on the ledger.

I agree with Rural WA, though, that for as long as distribution and manufacture of MJ or any other drug is illegal, there will be a criminal market. What I would suggest, then, is a ten plant limit for each family. I think this sort of thing would help meet the local market that doesn't feel like growing as well as the market that does.

But as the video posted to the left points out , it doesn't go far enough. Legalization of all drugs is what must be passed. Cocaine and heroin are still going to be there. What can we do, as a culture, to remove the violence associated with these drugs? The answer is simple: legalize them. Make them safer and available to the addicts so that the addicts don't get sick from the impurities in the drugs (as if the drugs themselves aren't bad enough), don't marginalize them like criminals - or worse yet force them through the power of addiction and the high cost of feeding that addiction to become criminals in order to feed it.

I would love nothing better than to see gardens of pot grow up around this country. Cannabis trees as far as the eye can see, converted into petrol for our automobiles, strong fibers for our clothing, and replacement for many of the problematic plastics that are clogging up our environment. Legalizing pot is *not* just about the drugs, it's also about a huge industry that's been put on hold because of the Conservative reich.

How close are we to legalization? As much as we like to put down Obama for not doing what we want him to do, we can surely be grateful that he hasn't done what McCain promised to do. Furthermore, he hasn't done anything that he hadn't already said he would do. He is taking pressure off of local communities and states that believe that sick people should have access. Surely this is a good first step rather than trying to get it all through in a single shot. Congress is *not* ready to legalize drugs. On the other hand, Canada and Mexico now have a president (yes, Obama is everyone's president, just as Bush was before him - saying otherwise is just foolishly naive) that might not choose to pressure their state leaders to continue the war on drugs policy. Perhaps Obama will allow us to make our own decisions in our own nations. Legalize the drugs. End the war on drugs. Drastically reduce crime and the high costs associated with it on both a social and economic level.

crime and immigration from Jamaica

Torontos black community will never take any responsibility for the inordinate amount of murders comitted by young black men. It finally looks like this government (thank god), has the spine to drop the hammer on these gun thugs who manage to hold entire neighborhoods hostage with their threats and intimidation including murder to preserve their own way of thug life. Now if only our Government would cut of all immigration from Jamaica, and start deporting all the jamaican thugs we have in custody and the ones who are arrested in mass sweeps and I mean deport them right after they serve their sentences drive them right to the airport and fly them back to Jamaica. If they try to sneak back in we life the scum!!! Jamaica has imported the absolute worst cultural aspects of that blight of an island the baby momma culture breeding indiscrimanately having multiple children with different men and bang we are burdened with more junior gangsta or junior baby mommas, as well as the culture of guns and violence most of it senseless, these scum demand respect when they have no inkiling what the word means then if they perceive a lack they shoot the offender. WTF!!!!!! The last time I looked I was living in a civilised country not the hellhole that is Jamaica. As to fast tracking hatians to canada forget it. We have enough immigrants waiting for years through legitimate channels and yet they want to bring more dead broke low skill immigrants here no no fucking way!!!! Haiti has been recieving massive foriegn aid for decades and yet the country is dirt poor always having its hand out and yet in thirty years not one improvement has been made to help the ordinary people their own government and the elite families of the country have stolen the aid money sold the supplies and lined their own pockets, so again tell me why we should help them if the elitists will not help their own. Canada has 12,000 orphans waiting for adoption here in our own country and yet fools run out to adopt hatian children? Let their own people help them let their own corrupt government help them let the thieving elitists help them Canada has done more than its part through the years with cash aid as well as material aid, enough is enough. I do have a novel solution take all the black criminals in our prisons and we send them to Haiti to rebuild it and they can stay there for life. It would only cost our taxpayers for the fuel to fly them there. And do not start your racists mantra because I hve found RACISM IS USED AS A SHIELD TO HIDE BEHIND AND A WEAPON TO BEAT THE REST OF SOCIETY OVER THE HEAD WITH this has been used by the black community in order to avoid any responsibility for their own inaction regarding the black thug miasma they just start the racist mantra and our P.C. (politically correct) idiots suck it in and then they too take up the cry ( until they or a family member is hurt or killed by these black thugs), stupid bleeding hearts!!!

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