Canada Risks Repeating ‘U.S. Mistakes‘ with Mandatory Minimum Sentences in Bill C-10
WASHINGTON, DC — A high-profile group of current and former law enforcement officials from the United States is calling on the Canadian government to reconsider the mandatory minimum sentences for minor marijuana offenses proposed in Bill C-10, arguing that the taxation and regulation of marijuana is a more effective policy approach to reducing crime.
On Wednesday, the law enforcers released a letter outlining their concerns, addressed to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Canadian senators. It is signed by more than two dozen current and former judges, police officers, special agents, narcotics investigators and other criminal justice professionals, all of whom are members of the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). The letter strongly reinforces the failure of U.S. crime policies that those proposed in the Canadian federal government’s Bill C-10 legislation seem to be modeled on.
“Through our years of service enforcing anti-marijuana laws, we have seen the devastating consequences of these laws,” the letter states. “Among the greatest concerns is the growth in organized crime and gang violence. Just as with alcohol prohibition, gang violence, corruption and social decay have marched in lockstep with marijuana prohibition.”
“We were deeply involved with the war on drugs and have now accepted, due to our own experience and the clear evidence before us, that these policies are a costly failure,” the letter continues. “Marijuana prohibition drives corruption and violence and tougher laws only worsen the problem.”
Bill C-10, titled “The Safe Streets and Communities Act,” is currently being heard by the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. Among other proposals, the bill calls for stricter mandatory minimum sentences for minor marijuana offenses, including minimum six-month sentences for growing as few as six marijuana plants.
“The Canadian government believes the answer is to get tougher on criminals,” said Norm Stamper, retired chief of police in Seattle, Washington. “But as we’ve learned with our decades-long failed experiment with the ‘war on drugs,’ the stricter sentencing proposed in the bill will only serve to help fill jails. It will not reduce harms related to the illicit marijuana trade, make Canadian streets safer or diminish gang activity.”
Said retired Washington State Superior Court Judge David Nichols: “Policies similar to those in the U.S. and now under consideration in Canada have been costly failures in the United States, wasting tax dollars and bankrupting state budgets. Following our path presents obvious and significant risks to Canadians.”
Among the 28 signers of the letter are many law enforcement officials working in border areas. They pointed to the illegal cross-border marijuana trade as sustaining gang activity in the region.
“Organized crime groups move marijuana to the U.S. from British Columbia and return with cocaine and guns,” said Stamper. “Prohibition continues to fill the coffers of organized criminals, making communities on both sides of the border less safe.”
Eric Sterling, who helped the U.S. Congress write the federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws, cautions: “As counsel to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee during the 1980’s, I played a major role in writing the mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws which later turned out to not only be ineffective in reducing drug use, but which directly contributed to the disastrous overincarceration problem in this country. I urge policy makers in Canada to learn from our mistakes.”
Canadian Senator Larry Campbell, a member of LEAP’s advisory board and a former member of the RCMP and its drug squad, added: “I am hopeful that my Senate colleagues will listen to the voice of experience, and take into account the advice from leading U.S. law enforcement officials to avoid mandatory minimum sentences. The U.S. and many of its citizens have suffered greatly due to the inflexible and dogmatic nature of mandatory minimum sentences, and Canada would be wise to learn from and avoid that costly and socially destructive mistake.”
U.S. Becoming More Progressive than Canada with Marijuana Policy
While Canada moves towards stricter sentencing with Bill C-10, many states in the U.S. are shifting in the opposite direction, toward control and regulation of the marijuana trade. The law enforcement officials pointed to the 16 U.S. states and the District of Columbia that have already passed laws allowing medical use of cannabis, the 14 states that have taken steps to decriminalize marijuana possession and the initiatives to fully tax and regulate marijuana that are likely to appear on statewide ballots this November in Washington State, Colorado and possibly California.
“We assume this news will not make you consider closing the borders with the United States,” the law enforcement officials write in their letter.