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Thursday, May 06, 2010

Mandatory minimums and a lack of basic common sense

The government is reintroducing its mandatory minimum sentencing for cannabis growers. NDP Libby Davis hits the nail on the head:

New Democratic Party MP Libby Davies, a vocal opponent of mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related crimes, warned Wednesday that mandatory terms for drug crimes will cost billions because they will "clog up" the prison system.

Moreover, Nicholson has refused to supply any evidence that mandatory minimums deter crime, she said.

"He could not offer anything," said Davies. "This approach that they're running with is based on this U.S. experience that has been a colossal failure both politically, economically, and from a justice point of view. Why would we be crazy enough to repeat that in Canada?"

Two studies prepared for the Justice Department, one in 2002 and the other in 2005, say that mandatory minimums do not work.

In my graduate program at the University of Edinburgh they talk a lot about the importance of policy learning. This is the process by which politicians or officials take ideas that are of interest in other jurisdictions, study it, discern its successes and failures, then try and apply its lessons to their own jurisdiction. It is a method that is full of potential and pitfalls, but it is something that anyone who is interested in public policy should be active in.

This appears to be what the federal government has done: Looked at a policy in another jurisdiction, discovered that it did not work, and then decided to apply it anyway. It doesn’t matter if you are pro legalization of pot or not. This is something that goes beyond the issue of drugs and society. This is about basic common sense.

This policy does not work; all data show that it does not work. And the government has provided no evidence to the contrary. So why in the name of whatever you find holy is the government going ahead with this plan?

Minister Nicholson says that this policy will "send a message" that "if you sell or produce drugs, you'll pay with jail time."

Personally I think it sends the message that government policy and basic logic is not on speaking terms.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on May 6, 2010 | Permalink


Hey Baker, wasn't that your buddy Emery who was hauled off to jail yesterday? OOPS! Too soon?

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2010-05-11 8:48:31 AM

Come to think of it, Emery's extradition has received only minimal coverage in the papers, and no mention at all in the Shotgun. The Shotgun, I'm surprised at; the mainstream media, no so much. Political and media fads come and go; once their race is run, they generate no more copy and are quietly dropped, fading quickly from the public consciousness. For a glory hound like Emery, who pins all his hopes on his personal popularity, all is lost when that happens.

Had Emery surrendered to the U.S. five years ago when his star was at its zenith (and when Bush was President), he might have garnered considerable public support, especially since he would have been following in the footsteps of Gandhi and King. But he fought like a trapped animal, dragged the process out, proved himself a hypocrite and a coward, and worst of all, allowed people to become bored. In the end, the people moved on, most barely noticing his departure. Even the stoners have had little to say. This bodes ill his hopes to serve his sentence in Canada.

Emery spoke of millions of outraged people on both sides of border. The man is delusional. He's also petty and vindictive, as he thinks the government deserves to be thrown out of office solely on account of what happened to him, and that every single Conservative MP should be hounded without mercy until that happens. But the truth is, he would have been extradited no matter who held the keys to 24 Sussex. There was no legal basis to deny the extradition, and even his own lawyer knew it.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-05-11 2:07:13 PM

Good basic analysis of the Emery ordeal Mr Matthews, and with your approval I have blended with Brother Zebulons' points
and added one of my own:

A) Emery was busted in 2005
during the Liberal reign in Canada
// GW Bush Republicans in the USA

B) and he is being extradited to the US in 2010 during the reign of the US Obama Democrats
// Harper Conservatives in Canada.

C) When he steps out of his US Prison in 2015 and is deported back to Canada, - who knows who will be in power ? But they will not likely honour him as neither a "GREAT CANADIAN" nor a

D) Note that The Prince of Pot will have the honour of being the first de facto recipient of the S-10 Mandatory Minimum Prison sentences for serious International cannabis offenses..

E) this might explain the lengthy five year delay from his arrest to his extradition

Posted by: 419 | 2010-05-11 2:40:14 PM

419: I think typical legal bureaucracy and lethargy caused the delay. Emery's not important enough in either country to hassle over, especially when his case was open and shut from the start. What a maroon! Well, fortunately we are rid of him.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2010-05-11 5:05:33 PM

I read Zebulon Pike only. He's the only one with whom I agree on this marijuana discussion. All the rest seem tiresome.

Posted by: Agha Ali Arkhan | 2010-05-11 11:44:01 PM

Thought I would post this article from the associated press on May 13.


It is titled " U.S drug war has reached none of its goals."

Posted by: Bret | 2010-05-14 5:55:07 AM

Thought I would post this article from The Weekly Standard. It is titled "Winning the Drug War."

Isn't it wonderful how quickly the Internet lets you read other people's opinions? Give it up, Bret. That woman's bias is obvious. If her surly and confrontational tone didn't make that clear, her gratuitous swipe at organized religion should have.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-05-14 6:30:52 AM

"Using that logic, we could burn all the law books and then the crime rate would be zero. Once again, the one-dimensional thinking."

Maybe I am not making myself clear enough. Of course we don't want certain things happening, regardless of their legal status (e.g., rape, murder, slavery, torture; things that hurt other people). Let's keep things like that illegal.

Taken by itself, the act of consuming cannabis hurts no-one. Your argument "cannabis users are accessories to violence because they buy from violent sources" does nothing to incriminate the plant itself or consumption of the plant. It does cast doubt on prohibition, which pushes cannabis distribution into violent hands.

Repealing an unjust law doesn't mean we have to repeal all other laws.

"That’s why the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has a budget in the billions. That’s a lot of enforcement expense for four perfectly legal products."

What's your point? The 2009 DEA budget was $2.6 Billion. If your point is that we would still have to keep an eye on a legal cannabis market and that doing so would cost money, then I agree. The government would also have a big new revenue stream in the form of cannabis tax.

"But today’s pot smokers have NEVER bought from anything but illegal sources. There is a large difference."

If cannabis were legal, I bet most of the heavy users would have their own small grow and they wouldn't be buying much of anything from anyone. As far as casual users, it's a real stretch to think they would choose a shady back alley source over a walk to the convenience store.

"Virtually ALL drug growers and pushers are hardcore."

Merely your opinion. Even if true, you are STILL ignoring the friendly guy down the block with 6 plants in his yard. If the difference between that guy and the hardcores is so obvious, why don't we let judges use discretion?

"The mandatory minimums are for production and distribution."

A typical personal grow would consist of one or two strains of mother plant, a few flowering plants, and clones taken from the mother plants to become the next flowering plants. Keeping a personal grow under 5 plants is possible, but not practical. 15 or 20 plants is a more reasonable cutoff to start thinking a garden is set up for "production and distribution".

"Penalties for possession will be, if anything, lightened."

There is absolutely nothing in the bill to suggest that will happen.

"In 2004, the property crime rate of the United States was 3,517 per 100,000. Canada’s for the same period was 3,991."

I said the property crime rates in Canada/USA were comparable, and your numbers agree: the Canadian property crime rate in 2004 was 0.4% higher. Violent crime rates in the States are around 200% higher than in Canada. I will take a slightly higher chance of having my car stolen over a much higher chance of being murdered or assaulted, thank you.

Furthermore, a single data point says nothing about a trend. We were originally discussing which policy was more effective at reducing crime rates and you seemed to think the USA had been far more successful than us. From 1994 to 2004, property crime in Canada declined 24.1%. In the same period, property crime in the states declined 24.5%. So I ask again: why ape an overly punitive and expensive system when the numbers show our current system works just as well?

"Property crime in Vancouver is sky-high, and it is estimated that 80% of all crime in the city is junkies stealing to feed their habits. And no one is talking about legalizing heroin and crack."

Exactly, we are talking about cannabis. So why are you bringing up crime stats directly linked to heroin and crack users? The crime we want to avoid comes from organized criminals dealing in cannabis, not cannabis users.

"And the link to my statistics is here. Counter that, if you can."

Those stats are for prisoners under state jurisdiction and federal drug law supersedes state law. Do you know where we could find a reliable number of the overall population incarcerated for cannabis possession? I would be interested to see those numbers.

"Those statistics are for jails, not prisons."

That doesn't change the fact that 10.8% percent of that jail population is there for simple possession. A related and very interesting stat I picked up while reading one of your sources is that approximately HALF of all drug offenses in Canada are for cannabis possession.

"The “non-violent offenders” bit again."

The violence associated with the cannabis trade exists because prohibition has pushed the trade into the hands of organized crime. Growing 6 plants in your yard and smoking them with your friends is completely non-violent. This bill puts that non-violent offender in jail.

"Other “non-violent” offences include stealing cars, burgling homes, insurance fraud, investment fraud, embezzlement, and bank and credit card scams."

Those aren't physically violent crimes, but they still hurt people. Growing 6 plants in your yard does not hurt people.

"But okay. Since you feel that prison is too full of non-violent offenders, I offer you an alternative. We can just break off some of their fingers. That would make it much more difficult to ply their chosen trade, provide them with incentive not to do so, and save beaucoup bucks."

For a guy so concerned with too much violence, you sure seem eager to dish some out. I respected your viewpoint and was trying to have a civil discussion with you until I read this shit.

Posted by: MJ | 2010-05-18 3:11:33 PM

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