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Trafficking, manufacturing and cultivating of drugs

Mandatory drug sentences may be counterproductive


By —— Bio and Archives--November 22, 2007

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Earlier this week, the Conservatives announced proposed minimum sentences for certain drug offences. Mandatory minimums would apply to the trafficking, manufacturing and cultivating of drugs as well as special mandatory sentences for selling drugs near schools or other areas where children may congregate, dealing while possessing a weapon and for those who sell drugs while linked to organized crime.

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The desire to toughen up our justice system is admirable after so many years of government by the Liberal Party who seem more concerned with the plight of the poor Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan than that of Canadian victims of crime. Yet the Tory proposals are not without some major problems.

On the positive side, the penalties for running marijuana grow-ops need to be toughened. The seriousness of grow ops extend beyond the subject matter of drugs. Many marijuana indoor grow operations include the theft of electricity and the creation of dangerous electrical situations that put not only the growers in danger, but cause a hazard for unsuspecting neighbours. The growing of marijuana plants on a large scale can cause mold to develop that poses a danger, especially to children that are often found to be residing in a house that is being used to cultivate the drug. The usual sentence of house arrest is simply not enough to discourage the setting up of grow ops that seemed to have proliferated since the Liberal government floated the idea of decriminalizing possession of marijuana. While their plan called for decriminalizing only small amounts, it had an effect of making it more acceptable to traffic in and cultivate the drug.

But the other proposed minimum sentences are more problematic. If these policies are enacted and have any impact at all, the government is going to have to be prepared for the increased cost of jailing those who are currently escaping custodial consequences of their actions or who will be jailed for longer periods of time. The prison system is already overcrowded and if the government really wants to incarcerate more people, they (we) are going to have to be prepared to pay the price.

Money will also have to be spent conducting more complex trials. In those cases where the government is proposing mandatory minimums, prosecutors will be required to prove more than a relatively simple drug transaction. It is doubtful that those who sell drugs and who are involved in organized crime carry picture ID to that effect. It will be onerous at times to prove someone’s affiliation with organized crime, especially in regards to lower level drug deals. Even having to prove trafficking near a school will be more difficult; will it apply only to certain hours when children are around or will trafficking in a schoolyard at 2 am also be subject to the increased punishment?  All of this will cost money.

The proposals will be counterproductive in another way. In most but not all situations of drug trafficking, simple possession of the drug will be an included offence of the main charge. Sympathetic prosecutors who feel that the minimum sentence for trafficking is too harsh, will simply proceed on the lesser and included offence of possession.  Judges will bend over backwards to acquit those who they feel are being dealt with too harshly. This is exactly what happened when the offence of importing drugs had a seven year minimum sentence prior to that penalty being found to be unconstitutional. The problem that these minimums sentences are attempting to resolve; lenient sentences handed down by lenient judges, is not going to disappear.

And the imposition of mandatory minimum sentences is not likely to do much to deter crime. While they may scare off a few people who are thinking about entering the criminal lifestyle, they will do nothing to discourage seasoned criminals from pursuing their lucrative trade. In many cases they may end up looking at less time in jail; often what is a mandatory minimum also ends up being the maximum sentence as well.

The Conservatives deserve credit for trying to do something to toughen up criminal legislation; but sometimes the cure can end up being worse than the disease. And it’s going to cost if there is any hope of making a difference.


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Arthur Weinreb -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Arthur Weinreb is an author, columnist and Associate Editor of Canada Free Press. Arthur’s latest book, Ford Nation: Why hundreds of thousands of Torontonians supported their conservative crack-smoking mayor is available at Amazon. Racism and the Death of Trayvon Martin is also available at Smashwords. His work has appeared on Newsmax.com,  Drudge Report, Foxnews.com.

Older articles (2007) by Arthur Weinreb


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