Article by Michael Spratt, Canadian Lawyer
Last week, the Liberal government’s half-hearted cannabis legislation passed second reading in the Senate. Normally, this would not be cause for celebration. After all, there is little downside in voting to study legislation and the marijuana bill is no exception. Opponents to the bill, if not persuaded by evidence heard at committee hearings, can still vote to kill the bill. But the Senate’s pot vote was no sure thing and the government was left scrambling to bring a number of independent senators back to Ottawa to avoid a defeat of the bill. So, perhaps it is a good thing that Trudeau’s “independent” senators are not really that independent as senators toed the party line and voted 44 to 29 to pass the bill.
Despite some massive flaws in the bill, the legalization of marijuana is unquestionably a good thing — the war on drugs has been an abject failure.
Criminalization of marijuana abdicates control over the production, distribution and regulation of cannabis to criminal organizations. Illegal marijuana leads to violence and death as addiction and mental health issues are driven underground and distribution with their associated profits are ceded to the black market. As a criminal lawyer, I have seen the bloodshed brought about by illegal weed. The bottom line is that it is not pot that creates these problems but the criminalization of marijuana that kills.
But these are not all the evils that criminalization brings about. Illegal marijuana is a drain on court resources and diverts law enforcement resources away from truly harmful activities. The prosecution of marijuana offences unduly stigmatizes otherwise law-abiding citizens through the imposition of stigmatizing criminal records.
But it gets worse. The criminalization of marijuana disproportionally impacts individuals who are young, marginalized, members of over-policed communities or are racialized. It is these groups that are more likely to be targeted and arrested by the police and prosecuted by the federal government’s lawyers. Our drug laws are built on a foundation of racism and bias.
There is no question that marijuana should be legalized and any opponent who shakes their head at this idea while drinking their legal afternoon cocktail is a damn hypocrite.
But there are major issues with the current legislation that were ignored by the government in the House of Commons — despite Trudeau’s promise of policy based on evidence and a respect for the Charter rights.
The pot bill is an unnecessarily complex piece of legislation that leaves intact the criminalization of marijuana in many circumstances.
An adult who possesses more than 30 grams of marijuana in public is a criminal. A youth who possesses more than five grams of marijuana is a criminal. An 18-year-old who passes a joint to his 17-year-old friend is a criminal. An adult who grows five marijuana plants is a criminal. And anyone who possesses non-government-approved marijuana is a criminal.