At Hot Box Café, heads smoke out Tory crime bill targeting reefer
It wasn’t the vaporizers at every table or the bong-wielding middle-aged women that stood out most at Saturday’s (February 12) Bill S-10 forum at the Hot Box Café.
It was when the weed-lovers’ hangout lived up to its name, filling with enough pot smoke to trigger a visit from the fire department.
Responding to an alarm at the Baldwin Street venue, three bashful firefighters seemed amused to find a smoky room of marijuana enthusiasts gathered for a panel on the bill that would require mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences.
Pipes and papers littered tables throughout the venue, which had the vibe of a college party house. Loosely hung sheets covered damaged spots on the ceiling, and chalkboards were plastered with drawings of stoned beavers and huge blunts.
Former Oakville NDP candidate Alison Myrden could be heard making wolf whistles at the strapping firefighters as they walked the length of the building to confirm there was no fire. Meanwhile, Marijuana Party of Canada founder Marc-Boris St-Maurice tried to calm the tittering masses, who were split between those who found the scene comical and those worried the police might arrive next.
“Have fun,” said a beaming firefighter as the trio left without incident. The crowd – which included teenagers, parents and a grey-bearded man in leather pants – burst into cheers and applause.
That the firemen appeared unconcerned with the source of the stench seemed to confirm the panelists’ message: pot use is common in society, and most users are ordinary people.
“S-10 targets young people disproportionately,” said Caleb Chepesiuk of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy. “If you’re 18 and your friends are 17, you can get two years for passing them a joint. It gives two years automatically for anyone trafficking in places young people frequent. Does anyone know anywhere youth don’t frequent?”
The reincarnation of two previous bills that failed to survive, S-10 was introduced and passed in the Senate, and made its way to the House of Commons in December. Part of the Conservatives’ “tough-on-crime” suite, it would enforce mandatory minimum jail sentences for growing as few as six marijuana plants.
Myrden, who takes prescription marijuana to treat multiple sclerosis, said S-10 also targets compassion clubs, which grow pot for medicinal users. The clubs occupy a grey area of the law, and operators would risk sentences of two to 14 years, she told NOW.
Proponents of S-10 want to make it easier to keep drug dealers behind bars, and say harsher sentences would act as deterrents.
“It is an incredibly important piece of legislation that goes after people who traffic in drugs [and] sell drugs to our children,” government House leader John Baird told the House on February 10.
A former corrections officer and member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Myrden disagreed, noting that mandatory minimums have done little to reduce crime in the U.S. She called out the Conservatives for going against their own small-government ideals.
“Conservatism means that the government does not interfere with people’s private lives and does not waste tax money,” said Myrden, who held a vaporizer the size of an electric toothbrush in her hand for most of the night.
St-Maurice, now a member of the Liberal Party and director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said the Conservatives have not said how much the legislative changes would cost.
“They either don’t know, or the cost is just so outrageous that they don’t want to tell,” he said.
Despite having voted for the similar Bill C-15 in 2009, the Liberals announced last week that they will not support S-10, a position shared by the Bloc Quebecois and NDP. That decision means it’s unlikely the bill will pass – unless one of the other parties changes its stance. In the case of an election, which seems increasingly imminent, S-10 will die and its supporters will have to start fresh.
“It doesn’t end here,” said St-Maurice, his face illuminated by colourful lights reflecting off a Canadian flag with a pot-leaf centre.
“You all have to vote. If the Conservatives get a majority, there won’t be anything else we can do.”
Feb. 17, 2011