Pubdate: Wed, 02 Mar 2011
Source: Abbotsford News (CN BC)
Copyright: 2011 Abbotsford News
Authors: Vikki Hopes and Neil Corbett


Pot growers will get six months in jail if they have a grow-op with
six or more plants, if the federal Conservatives can pass a
tough-on-crime bill, says Abbotsford MP Ed Fast.

Since taking office, Stephen Harper's government has been trying to
establish a minimum jail sentence for growers, Fast said.

"This is a very important bill for us," he said. "Just look at
Abbotsford - the number one threat is drug-related and gang-related

Fast is chairman of the Justice Committee which reviews all criminal
justice legislation. He said the government brought forward similar
legislation in an earlier bill called C-15. It passed Parliament, but
it was "gutted" by the Senate, which was then dominated by the Liberal
party. He said the Senate wanted to have minimum jail time for grows
of 200 plants. That was not acceptable to the Conservatives.

Now Conservatives control the Senate and S-10 has its approval, but
the Liberals vow they will not let the bill pass Parliament.

"Once it hits the House of Commons, it's going to be explosive,"
predicts Fast. "It clearly shows the line between us and the other

Liberals have criticized the bill for the six-plant limit, which they
say is too low.

"I believe it's a fair threshold," said Fast. "We have to draw the
line somewhere."

He said a grow-op with six plants, getting three to four crops per
year, would produce 5,000 to 7,000 marijuana cigarettes (joints) per
year, which is far beyond personal use.

"Anybody who smokes that many is going to be sick or

He also defended the length of the jail term, noting parole generally
cuts it by two-thirds.

"Keep in mind, if you get six months, you'll be out on the street in
two months," said Fast.

A guilty party convicted of a first offence for a non-violent crime
can also apply for release after one-sixth of his or her sentence is
served. So, six months could become one month.

"This is not draconian legislation," said Fast.

"We're talking about adults, growing six or more plants, and knowing
what it's for," he said. "We're not going after recreational drug users."

Fast agrees with critics who say more jails will be needed as a result
of minimum sentencing.

"But the reality is, Canadians are asking us to do this," he said. "If
the Liberals vote this down, it's going to make drug dealers very,
very happy."

Abbotsford Police Chief Bob Rich said the amendments to the Controlled
Drugs and Substances Act, if passed, will benefit local
crime-fighting. He is the sponsor of a resolution by the B.C.
Association of Chiefs of Police to support Bill S-10. He also supports
the bill for its stiffer penalties for trafficking drugs near
playgrounds and recreation centres.

"I'm not suggesting this is perfect legislation, but I do think it
goes a long way in the right direction," Rich said.

He said current laws are not severe enough to keep neighbourhoods safe
by deterring organized crime grow-ops.

"The cash cow that has made gangs so prolific in the Fraser Valley is
growing marijuana."

Rich said the money generated from such operations is used to fund
other gang endeavours, such as moving cocaine across the border.
Additionally, properties can become the scene of violent "grow rips"
where weapons are involved and conversely, where weapons are used to
protect them.

He said a mandatory six-month minimum sentence is a good

"We struggle every day to keep our kids and our communities safe from
the devastation and violence of gangs and drugs. Any tools that serve
that end goal will be put to good use."

UFV criminology professor Darryl Plecas spoke to the Senate about the
bill, as he has studied grow-ops for over 14 years. He supports the
idea of minimum sentences to get past legal precedents that judges
follow in sentencing.

He would rather see the threshold be five grow lights in a grow-op,
rather than six plants. Five lights establishes that it is a
"commercially viable operation." Generally, a grower with five lights
would have 75 plants, he said.

But he would increase the jail term to a minimum of two years,
ensuring that offenders do federal time, where he says there are
excellent reformative programs.

Plecas noted most growers have an established criminal profile, and
are tied to organized crime. The average person involved in a grow-op
has a 13-year criminal history with seven prior arrests.

According to his research, in 35 per cent of cases where police bust a
grow-op, they simply seize the plants and do not recommend charges.

If charges are recommended by police to Crown counsel, 42 per cent of
the time they are either not approved or are stayed by the court. If
growers are convicted in court, a jail sentence is imposed in only 20
per cent of the cases, and a three-month sentence is the norm.

David Eby of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association said mandatory
minimum sentences have not served the U.S. justice system well,
causing expensive expansion of the prison population.

"It's taking away the discretion of judges to review the circumstances
of the person in front of them," he said.

"One size does not fit all in terms of criminal offences."

Eby said the association advocates treating addiction to hard drugs as
a health issue, and favours decriminalizing marijuana.

"We need to take marijuana out of the hands of organized crime, and
tax it and control it," he said.

He called the new bill "the opposite direction to the way Canada has
been going."


- - is an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA)
and was introduced in the Senate on May 5, 2010.

- - calls for a minimum six-month sentence for producing anywhere from
six to 200 marijuana plants, one year for 201 to 500 plants, and two
years for more than 500.

- - calls for a mandatory minimum one-year jail sentence for trafficking
drugs such as heroin, cocaine and meth if certain aggravating factors
apply - for example, if the offence was committed for a criminal
organization or if violence or the threat of violence was used.

- - calls for a mandatory minimum two-year sentence if the trafficking
was committed in or near a school, on or near school grounds, or in or
near any public place frequented by people under 18.

- - calls for a minimum two-year sentence for producing a drug such as
heroin, cocaine or meth, and three years if health and safety factors
apply, including producing the drug in a location occupied by a child
under the age of 18.

- - allows for sentencing to be delayed to enable offenders, in certain
cases, to participate in a drug treatment program. If the treatment is
successfully completed, the court can impose a suspended or reduced


- - There are at least 10,000 grow-ops across B.C. In recent years there
is less concentration in the Lower Mainland, and more in the Interior.

- - In B.C., 16.8 per cent of the population, or 585,000 people, use

- - Based on the above figures it is estimated that 70 per cent of the
pot grown in B.C. is exported out of province.

- - The trend is toward grow-ops that are increasingly large,
sophisticated and designed to escape detection.

- - The average grow-op in B.C through the 1990s was 196

- - The average grow-op in Mission (an area of study) is currently 700

- - The average grow-op in the Cariboo is currently 1,000

- - When police become aware of a grow-op, they don't respond to it more
than 50 per cent of the time, due to a lack of resources.

- - When police become aware of a grow-op, 55 per cent of the time it is
as a result of tips, and most of the other times it is while
investigating other crimes.

- - When police do respond to information about grow-ops, 92 per cent of
the time they find one.
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.