Jails Not Going To Pot, Says Minister

New Laws Aimed at Traffickers, Not Users

OTTAWA – Canadian jail cells are not going to be brimming with teenagers and college kids who share pot with their pals, according to Justice Minister Rob Nicholson who maintains one of the most contentious facets of his omnibus crime bill has been grossly misrepresented.

Mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana production are designed to target organized crime, gangs and grow-ops, he said in a year-end interview with Postmedia News.

They don’t apply to young offenders and even new provisions that aim to penalize adults who are trafficking drugs around schools mean perpetrators would have to be caught with an “eight-pound joint” to be saddled with a mandatory minimum under the safe streets and communities act, he argued.

“For the most part the laws with respect to marijuana aren’t changed but they are changed with respect to trafficking associated with organized crime, gangs and grow-ops for the purpose of trafficking,” he said.

“I want to make that very clear because it was not clear in some of the criticisms.  If somebody was thrown in jail under this bill, they were in the business of trafficking.”

It’s been a particularly acrimonious year for Nicholson, who has come under fire for bundling nine vastly different bills into one and pushing it through Parliament thanks to his party’s new majority.  2012 isn’t expected to get any easier.  In January, Nicholson will meet with his provincial counterparts in what will undoubtedly be a difficult session.

Ontario and Quebec have both refused to pick up additional costs associated with the C-10 crime bill.

Quebec’s justice minister also recently left Ottawa fuming after the federal government refused to consider amendments aimed at preserving Quebec’s approach to criminal justice, which favours rehabilitation and reintegration, particularly where youth are concerned.

An old government cost breakdown associated solely with amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act – which was among the pieces of legislation wrapped into the crime bill after the government failed to pass it in previous minority Parliaments – found incarceration levels would increase by 33 per cent at a cost of $717 million over five years.  And half of that would be absorbed by the provinces.

Nicholson, however, has stood by newer figures that suggest the entire safe streets and communities act would cost the federal government $78.6 million over five years.

The government has not speculated on costs to the provinces but Nicholson knows exactly what he’ll say to his counterparts when the subject comes up.

“One of the things that I will reiterate is that we have acted on a number of the measures that they have proposed to us,” he said, noting many of the changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act, as well as an earlier decision to eliminate two-for-one sentencing, was based on their advice.

Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2011 Winnipeg Free Press
Contact: http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/send_a_letter
Website: http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/
Author: Tobi Cohen

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