Pubdate: Sat, 05 Mar 2005
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2005 Calgary Herald
Bookmark: (Rochfort Bridge)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)
Bookmark: (Opinion)


Longer Jail Terms Might Help Protect Police and Citizens

It's become a common feature of urban life: the marijuana grow
operation ("grow-op") down the street which may or not be investigated
by police, which may or may not be raided, and drug dealers who may or
may not serve a prison sentence if charged and convicted.

Thursday's horrific killing of four police officers at a farm near
Mayerthorpe, at the site of a marijuana grow-op, tragically highlights
why such operations and drug dealers in general ought to receive a
much higher priority in terms of investigation, prosecution and punishment.

The trend in the courts has instead been to give such dealers of dope
and destruction the proverbial slap on the wrist -- the tragic
consequences come later.

Statistics Canada reports that in the latest year for which
information is available (2003), more drug traffickers in Alberta were
given a conditional sentence (412) as opposed to prison (365).

In addition, 117 people were given probation. Thus, 59 per cent of
those convicted of drug trafficking in Alberta did no time. Crimes of
violence showed similar overall ratios between the three options. And
nationwide, the statistics are again similar and depressing.

Additional evidence for the tenderhearted approach comes from the
particularly lax sentencing in British Columbia. The lead police
officer for marijuana grow-op busts in that province told the
Vancouver Sun this week that operators on average have a 13-year
criminal history, seven prior criminal convictions, with 41 per cent
of those for violent offences.

A recent survey of sentencing statistics over two years in B.C. found
that only one in seven grow-operators goes to jail (only one in 13 in
the city of Vancouver), and that the average fine for a grow-op is
just $1,809, a rather minor cost of doing business, given that the
profits of grow-ops can be in the hundreds of thousands or even
millions of dollars.

Small wonder why our neighbour to the west has an estimated $7-billion
marijuana industry.

In terms of remedies, the Herald has in the past recommended
decriminalization of marijuana use on the grounds that 15-year-olds
ought not to receive a permanent black mark that prevents them from
becoming fully productive members of society.

But decriminalization does not imply moral approval nor legalization
of marijuana, or other so-called "soft" drugs, or hard drugs, or of

In fact, decriminalizing marijuana use would likely lead to better
enforcement against usage. Cops will be more likely to charge a youth
for openly using marijuana if the penalty is likely to be a $500 fine
and not a criminal record.

But should government go down the pot decriminalization path, not only
should subsequent penalties against such use be meted out more often
to discourage it -- an important social signal -- grow-op operators
and drug dealers should be dealt with as severely as is possible under
our constitution.

Conservative Justice critic Vic Toews recommends a minimum two-year
sentence for the first offence for grow-operators.

We'll see that and raise the Conservatives to two years for every drug
trafficker on the first offence, and much lengthier minimums for
subsequent convictions.

Perhaps Justice Minister Anne McLellan, her colleagues, as well as
Liberal party members meeting this weekend in Ottawa for their
convention, could revisit their dislike for mandatory minimum sentences.

Such a change would also require more money for policing, enforcement,
the courts and likely additional jail cells. Instead of taxpayer cash
directed in billion-dollar amounts to bureaucratic bookkeeping in the
gun registry, $435 million from Ottawa and Ontario for corporate
welfare this past week alone (and $4 billion annually from just the
federal government), or plump advertising contracts for Liberal
friends, perhaps McLellan and her colleagues could revisit those
errant priorities as well.

Surely, they do not prefer the status quo.

It's time to declare war on grow-ops.

All levels of government must come to the table and make it happen.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake