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Need C15 talking points?

By admin | September 14, 2009

Mandatory minimum sentencing (MMS) for drug crimes, as proposed for Canada in Bill C-15, have decimated the legal system in United States. Overloaded prisons, constant appeals, and powerless judges, all lead to large expenses and generalized punishment for non-violent drug offenses.

6 months in jail for growing 5 plants or sharing 1 joint is disproportionate, and will destroy the lives of many of the youth this law is supposed to be protecting.

According to Sarah Inness, spokesperson for the Canadian Bar Association, “The discretion vested with sentencing judges ensures meaningful distinctions made in the sentencing process, taking into account varying degrees of culpability. Judges are [also] able to impose sentences that emphasize rehabilitation…”. Locking low level dealers and old hippies planting a garden in jail, with hardened criminals unafraid of lengthy sentences, will only serve to increase gang control.

These sentiments are echoed by organizations that have seen first hand the failure of the United State’s “War On Drugs”, including the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Drug Policy Task Force, and the PEW Centre’s One in 31 report that concluded MMS are costly, ineffective and unjust. In 2002, Canada spent $330 million to prosecute drug crimes, 23% of all cases appearing before a judge that year. Catching and punishing those “drug criminals” put us out another $1.43 B and $573 M respectively. Mandatory sentencing will only drive up these associated costs.

Fortunately Canada has a loophole.  As of July 2001, Health Canada operates the  Marihuana Medical Access Regulations, which clearly define the circumstances and the manner in which access to marihuana for medical purposes will be permitted. However this does not cover any of the patient cooperative models for medical cannabis dispensing in the country.

Cannabis has many effects that are still not fully understood especially when used in combination with other drugs, for a broad variety of symptoms. Thankfully, the Cannabis Buyers’ Clubs of Canada (Victoria), Dr. Paul Hornby from The Green Cross (Vancouver), Vancouver Island Compassion Society (Victoria) and the British Columbia Compassion Club Society (Vancouver) have created their own programs, many of which are providing better support and research than the government exemption program we are throwing money at. As Libby Davies, long time NDP MP from Vancouver explains, “Despite our nation being one of the first countries in the world to provide legal access, very few research projects have been approved and those that have are not moving forward or have been cancelled and there is currently no federal funding earmarked for clinical cannabis research in Canada.” Despite providing high quality medicine, patients’ advocacy and support groups and research, none of these groups are licensed. Everyday they face serious legal repercussions for wanting to help the sick. Bill C15 will ensure that no compassion or circumstantial evidence will be taken into account at their sentencing.

With upwards of 8000 citizen of British Columbia alone utilize the services of private cooperatives that provide medical cannabis. Across the country, less than 4000 people have been register with the MMAR program through Health Canada. With long forms, lengthy delays, HC forms, inspections, and renewals too frustrating for most people also trying to cope with their health, is it any wonder why patients prefer not to deal with the government? Will we criminalize patients that obviously have found the government program inaccessible or whom have a doctor afraid of the legal repercussions of recommending a drug without an educated research base.

Will citizens who are not protected by the Health Canada program be incarcerated because they choose to use cannabis instead of pharmaceuticals? Should medical dispensary operators face long prison sentences for helping the sick people our government ignores? With the current economic instability, we should be taxing and regulating our billion dollar crop, not sinking further into debt to mimic failed policies.

Our fight against this bill began in November of 2007, under the heading C26. Parliament fell and we were hopeful that cooler heads would prevail, but they reintroduced it in earlier 2009 as Bill C15. Very little attention has been paid to this legislation as it coasted through Parliament in a matter of weeks. At it’s first reading in Senate, the house decided to break for supper instead of debating this serious policy change.

For all the rhetoric about harsh drug sentencing protecting our youth, I would like to respond with a case study.  The United States, has spent 40 years fighting the “War in Drugs”. In 1973 they re-instituted mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession, beginning in New York State. Now, in 2009, they imprison more people every year for drug crimes than any other country in the world. This costs them about $34 Billion year, about half of which is paid by the federal budget. Drug charges account for more than all violent crime charges combined. And more than half of these prisoners are parents. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one 1 in 39 children have at least one parent in jail. These children not only grow up with the stigma of being a prisoner’s child, but are also subjected to increase rates of parental divorce, poverty, abuse, teenage pregnancy, and high school drop-out. Millions of families are destroyed by this political puppeteering and yet, every year the United States rates some of the highest drug use per capita in the world.

We need to stand up for our freedom and personal liberties. We want to talk about this issue. You can help us stop Bill C15. On September 14th we are having a nation wide PHONE JAM.  We are going to call Senate all day starting at 8 am in Halifax and ending at midnight in Victoria to make sure that our senators are informed on this bill before the house resumes the next day. We have a list of all the senators’ phone numbers and emails, or you can call 1-800-OCANADA(662-6232) or 1-800-267-7362 (senate switchboard) to connect toll free to any of the senate offices. Educate yourself on this issue. Websites like,, or are excellent resources. Use your voice and explain to the person who answers the phone that you are very concerned about this legislation, and why, and that you would like to know the senator’s position on this matter. The longer you talk, the more of a commotion we will make, and the more informed your government’s decision will be.

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