HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Ottawa Proposes Mandatory Jail For Growers, Dealers
Pubdate: Wed, 21 Nov 2007
Source: Windsor Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2007 The Windsor Star
Author: Richard Foot, CanWest News Service
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


The Conservative government unveiled historic legislation Tuesday to 
create the first mandatory prison terms in Canada for people 
convicted of trafficking illicit drugs.

The proposed changes are the newest chapter in the Harper 
government's crackdown on crime, which includes bills before 
Parliament to toughen rules for repeat violent offenders, to keep 
accused young offenders in jail before their trials, and now to 
impose automatic prison penalties on serious drug offenders.

Canada's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act currently contains no 
mandatory prison sentences for anyone convicted under the act.

Judges use their own discretion about whether to send drug pushers 
and growers to jail.

However, the new bill proposes:

- - a one-year mandatory jail term for dealing drugs while using a 
weapon, or for dealing drugs in support of organized crime;

- - a two-year mandatory term for dealing cocaine, heroin or 
methamphetamines to young people, or for dealing them near a school 
or any place young people are known to frequent;

- - a mandatory six-month sentence for growing as little as one 
marijuana plant, for the purposes of trafficking;

- - a two-year mandatory term for running a marijuana grow operation of 
at least 500 plants;

- - a doubling of the maximum prison term for cannabis production from 
seven to 14 years.

The Conservatives are also proposing to allow judges to exempt 
certain offenders from mandatory prison terms, on condition that they 
complete drug treatment court programs.

Drug treatment courts are designed to help non-violent offenders who 
have trafficked in small amounts of drugs in order to support their 
addictions overcome their drug habits.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said Tuesday the changes in the 
sentencing provisions are designed to target the people the 
government considers at the root of the drug supply problem: 
large-scale growers and traffickers, organized crime groups that 
finance their operations through drugs, and people who push drugs on 
children and teenagers.

"We've made it very clear that those individuals who are in the 
business of exploiting other people through organized crime and other 
aggravating factors -- through this bill, we want to get serious with 
those individuals and send the right message to them ... you will be 
doing jail time," he said. "We want to put organized crime out of 
business in this country."

But one expert says the changes will only help organized crime groups 
do more business in Canada.

"Tougher penalties for people who produce and traffic drugs will only 
scare the ma-and-pa producers, and organized crime will fill the 
gap," says Eugene Oscapella, a criminal lawyer who teaches drug 
policy at the University of Ottawa and once advised the Law Reform 
Commission of Canada on the issue.

"Organized crime doesn't care about the law. With these changes, this 
government is doing a service for organized crime."

Oscapella says decades of experience with tough, mandatory penalties 
in the United States have proven that the threat of prison terms 
doesn't deter drug traffickers or growers, just as similar policies 
never deterred organized criminals and illegal bootleggers during the 
U.S. prohibition on alcohol.

Nicholson says the criminal production of drugs has increased and the 
federal government needs to respond.

"Drug trafficking, grow-ops, a whole host of activities, have become 
much worse in recent years, so we've got to stay up to date with the 
laws of this country," he says. "I think this is a measured, 
reasonable response to the challenges we face.

"I just want to catch up with the bad guys."
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