Bill proposes tougher penalties for renters than for homeowners
Tenants caught growing as few as six marijuana plants in their dwellings could face automatic jail terms of at least nine months, under a federal drug-sentencing bill revived Wednesday that imposes harsher penalties on home renters than on homeowners.
The bill, introduced for the third time after dying twice before, proposes mandatory minimum jail terms for a variety of drug-related crimes, removing discretion for judges to sentence as they see fit.
The Harper government's proposed legislation imposes stiffer punishment on renters than it does on homeowners, because involving a third party is one of several aggravating factors.
"It is going to have a really detrimental affect on young people," predicted Tara Lyons, a fourth-year sociology student at Carleton University in Ottawa.
"More young people rent dwellings because they can't afford to buy their own, so this bill sets up a situation where the policies are crafted in the name of protecting children, but they are just presenting more harm to young people."
The bill proposes to impose mandatory minimum terms for drug-trafficking crimes, ranging from one to three years.
Lyons, executive director of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, was one of more than a dozen witnesses who urged the federal government, during House of Commons committee hearings last spring, to scrap its drug-sentencing bill.
The bar for being caught growing marijuana for the purposes of trafficking is generally five plants, which would garner a minimum six-month jail term.
However, for anyone captured under any of the broad aggravating factors, the minimum jail term is increased to nine months. It goes up to a one-year minimum for growing up to 200 plants for the purpose of selling, and two years for up to 500 plants.
Other aggravating factors include such things as whether a weapon was found on the premises, whether the location was considered unsafe, and whether the pot production posed a danger to the public in a residential area.
The Senate, which considered the bill last fall, increased the bar to 200 plants for automatic incarceration, but left it at five in cases involving aggravating factors.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson on Wednesday ignored the Senate amendments and resurrected his bill as it passed in the House of Commons last June, with the support of the Liberals.
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.
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By Janice Tibbetts, Canwest News Service
May 6, 2010