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Election 2008: Conservative drug bill shelved during elections

Critics worry that Bill C-26 will target young marijuana users

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If reintroduced and passed once Parliament reconvenes following the election, a Conservative bill to impose minimum sentences for drug production and trafficking would bring major changes to Canada’s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA).

In response to the lack of minimum penalties under the CDSA, Bill C-26 proposed new mandatory sentencing ranging between six months to three years for certain drug offenses, particularly those with aggravating factors, such as using violence or committing an offence near a school.

“Drug producers and dealers who threaten the safety of our communities must face tougher penalties,” said Conservative Justice Minister Rob Nicholshon in a November 2007 press release.

Although the legislation did offer offenders the option of attending drug treatment in exchange for a reduced or suspended minimum sentence, it has spawned criticism from both marijuana legalization activists and drug policy reform advocates. Tara Lyons, head of the Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP), believes that such legislation would greatly affect youth for the worse.

“A big part of the bill, and the bigger political context of this is that the Tories are tough on crime. This is really frustrating for me running a youth-based organization like this, because [these policies] ruin young people’s lives,” Lyons said. “Drug use is such a complex issue that requires complex solutions….Young people have to be in this conversation.”

The CSSDP organizes peer drug education and harm reduction projects for Canadian youth. According to the Canadian Addiction Survey, a study sponsored in part by Health Canada, 42.7 per cent of Canadians between 18 and 19-years-old have smoked marijuana in the past year.

Citing safe injection sites as an example of innovative drug policy in other countries, Lyons worried that Canada is criminalizing drug use without approaching the problem creatively.

“It’s such a backward and naive way to look at things. And the bill exemplifies the approach,” she said.

Marc Emery – dubbed the “Prince of Pot” – is a Vancouver marijuana legalization activist and the publisher and editor of Cannabis Culture magazine. He is wanted by the U.S. government for selling marijuana seeds over the internet.

Emery maintains the Conservative government wants to tighten drug laws to garner votes from specific demographics.

“They’re trying to scare old people about crime…and scare young mothers about their children being abducted any moment now,” he said.