Pubdate: Thu, 10 Feb 2011
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2011 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Meagan Fitzpatrick
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Canada)
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)


Liberals Won't Support Law for Jail Time

OTTAWA -- The Conservative government's controversial bill that would 
impose mandatory jail time for offenders caught growing a handful of 
marijuana plants appears headed to the trash can.

The Liberals announced Wednesday they will not support Bill S-10, 
which has already been passed by the Senate.

"I'm very disappointed that they have had this complete flip-flop," 
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said.

The Liberals, who supported previous versions of the bill, now say it 
would excessively punish some people for minor offences and would 
cost too much to implement because it will jam prisons that are 
already filled to the brink. The Conservatives have said they will 
spend $2 billion over the next five years to expand prisons.

"We just think this is bad criminal justice policy," Liberal Leader 
Michael Ignatieff told reporters Wednesday. "It's going to cost this 
country billions of dollars. We think it's the wrong way to go."

The NDP and Bloc Quebecois have always been against the bill, first 
introduced in 2008, but the Liberals helped the Tories pass it 
through the House of Commons and onto the Senate in December 2009. 
Liberals in the upper chamber watered the bill down and it was in its 
final stages when Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament, 
killing the legislation.

A new bill -- closer to the original version that ignored the Liberal 
amendment -- was introduced in the Senate in May 2010. The Liberal 
senators tried again to amend the bill at the Senate legal and 
constitutional affairs committee but failed after losing their 
majority in the upper chamber. The bill passed on Dec. 13, 2010.

It's now in the hands of MPs and on Wednesday the government put S-10 
on notice, meaning it could be raised for debate in the next few 
days. That move prompted the Liberals to announce their new position, 
which effectively seals the fate of the bill and will force the 
Tories to start from scratch, again.

Nicholson said he isn't prepared to accept the bill is headed for defeat.

He's hoping enough Liberals will break party ranks and defy 
Ignatieff, siding instead with the government.

While the Liberals say the bill could unfairly target young people, 
Nicholson said the proposed changes to the existing laws are aimed 
squarely at drug traffickers and organized crime.

The bill would impose a mandatory minimum sentence of six months in 
jail for an offender convicted of growing between five and 201 
marijuana plants for the purpose of trafficking. The more plants that 
are grown, the longer the minimum sentence.  
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