Pubdate: Mon, 17 Apr 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Bill Curry
Page: A2


A prison sentence of up to 14 years for providing cannabis to youth is
shaping up as one of the early points of contention as the Liberal
government prepares to defend its landmark legislation to legalize
recreational marijuana.

Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, makes clear in its opening passages that
the main purpose of the legislation is to prevent young people from
accessing cannabis.

Those opening statements are backed up with stiff penalties, including
imprisonment for up to 14 years for providing marijuana to someone 17
or under.

Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould defended that provision
during an interview with CTV's Question Period, which aired Sunday.

"We want to ensure when we legalize cannabis in this country that we
keep it out of the hands of kids and do everything that we can in
order to make that happen," Ms. Wilson-Raybould said.

"I am not going to apologize for the strict penalties that we've put
in place in this legislation."

The penalties for providing marijuana to a minor would be much more
severe than those currently in place in relation to alcohol.

In Ontario, for instance, the sale of alcohol to a minor carries a
maximum sentence of one year.

In the state of Colorado, where legal marijuana stores have been
operating since Jan. 1, 2014, selling alcohol to minors is treated as
a misdemeanour offence in a similar way to Ontario.

For marijuana, only individuals aged 21 or older are allowed to buy or
possess cannabis products in Colorado. As it relates to providing
marijuana to minors, the state set four levels of offences based on
the quantity of product as well as whether or not the minor is more
than two years younger than the adult. The potential sentences range
from six months to 32 years.

Craig Jones, executive director of the National Organization for the
Reform of Marijuana Laws in Canada (NORML Canada), said the penalties
in the Canadian bill for providing marijuana to someone 17 or under
simply don't make sense.

Mr. Jones said it would be highly unlikely that a judge would impose
such a penalty. He also said groups like his would challenge the
provision in court as unreasonable.

"For the last 50-odd years, governments have put out this scenario of
this trenchcoat-wearing, fedora-clad stranger hovering around the
perimeter of schoolyards selling drugs of all kinds to children," he
said. "But the truth is that most kids who acquire cannabis get it
from their siblings or a friend a couple of lockers down the hallway.
I just can't envision a scenario in which a judge thinks that a
14-year sentence is applicable to what is probably, in most cases, a
first offender. It just struck me as a kind of ridiculous thing that
will get amended in committee review."

The government tabled the 144-page bill on Thursday before the House
of Commons rose for a two-week recess. The government also tabled a
related bill, C-46, that updates impaired-driving laws.

Conservative Senator Vern White, the former chief of police in Ottawa,
said he's not concerned by the 14-year maximum sentence. He said that
because there is no mandatory minimum sentence, judges will use their

"I'm fine with it because really it's [for] an extreme case," he said.
"I think judges will take into account the age difference, whether or
not they were friends, whether the buyer was a frequent buyer. All
that kind of stuff is still going to be considered."

Other offences currently in the Criminal Code that carry maximum
14-year sentences include producing child pornography, attempting to
leave Canada to commit terrorism and aggravated assault of a peace
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