Pubdate: Fri, 26 Nov 2010
Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Copyright: 2010 The Edmonton Journal
Author: Janice Tibbetts, Postmedia News


Bill seeks jail time for five plants or more

The Senate has backed away from a fight with the Conservative
government over a controversial drug-sentencing bill that would
automatically imprison offenders caught growing five or more marijuana

One year after the upper house watered down proposed legislation by
raising the bar to more than 200 plants, a new version of the bill is
once again before the Senate and the chamber has decided that the
previous amendment would never survive a final vote among MPs.

"It was irrational," conceded Liberal Sen. George Baker. "It wasn't
going to fly with the Conservatives and it wasn't going to fly with
the Liberals."

A Senate-Commons tug of war over the bill -- to impose mandatory
minimum sentences for drug crimes for the first time in Canada --
began more than a year ago, when the Liberals in the upper chamber
enraged Justice Minister Rob Nicholson by altering his bill so that
anyone caught with six to 200 pot plants would not go to jail.

The bill was in its final stages when it died after Prime Minister
Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament last December.

Nicholson revived his proposed legislation in the spring, but ignored
the Senate amendment and set the bar back at his original five plants.

The bill was reintroduced in the Senate, which is currently reviewing
the proposals before it sends them to the House of Commons for public
hearings and a final vote.

Nicholson's proposed legislation would impose mandatory six-month
terms for growing five or more plants with the intent to sell, and
one-year sentences when marijuana-dealing is linked to organized crime
or a weapon is involved.

Sentences would increase to two years for dealing such drugs as
cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine to young people, or pushing drugs
near a school or other places frequented by youths.

Baker said reviving the Senate amendment of 200 plants was never
raised this time around. The Senate dug its heels last year simply to
"make a statement" against mandatory minimum jail terms, which he
described as "crazy."

Automatic prison terms are controversial because they strip judges of
their discretion to impose sentences as they see fit.

Critics say mandatory minimums for drug-related crimes will flood
Canada's overcrowded jails. The U.S., which imposed mandatory minimums
as the cornerstone of its "war on drugs," has backed away because
lawmakers say they have not reduced drug crimes.

The Liberals proposed a different amendment earlier this month in the
Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee -- to impose jail
terms for growing 20 plants or more -- but it failed.

Nicholson warned the committee earlier this fall that changing his
proposed legislation again "would severely weaken the bill" so that a
person involved in organized crime could have 150 plants in several
locations and escape jail nonetheless.

The Tories do not have the majority they need to ensure the bill sails
through without amendments.
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