In today's Globe and Mail, Eddie Greenspan and Anthony Doob take on the Harper government's new legislation, which proposes harsher rules for growing and selling marijuana. It enumerates things nicely.. Six plants can get you six months; and selling it to people under 18 gets you a minimum sentence of two years. Greenspan and Doob ask:
Six months for six plants! Why not seven, like the musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers? Unfortunately, sentencing isn’t a musical. Two years in jail for giving marijuana to a friend near a school? What does “near” mean? Anything less than far? If the marijuana is given or sold “near any other public place, usually frequented by persons under the age of 18,” it’s also a mandatory sentence of two years. What public place in urban areas isn’t “usually frequented by persons under the age of 18”? Does the government really think that an 18-year-old giving or selling marijuana to his friend near a school constitutes organized crime?
The point Greenspan and Doob make is that the legislation is poorly drawn. And the penalties are equally wrong-headed. There are two problems with the government's attempt to make society "safer:"
First, many studies demonstrate that increases in penalties will not affect crime. This has been known for years. Eighteen years ago, a Progressive Conservative Party of Canada election platform noted that the answer to offending “does not lie in simply building more prisons and getting more police. If that were true, then the United States would be the safest place on Earth.” Similarly, that same year (1993), the Reform Party urged “greater certainty in sentencing” rather than increased imprisonment.
Second, this isn’t the best way to deal with Canada’s illicit drug problem. Imprisonment is very costly and, if it’s being justified as a means to address drug problems or achieve public safety, the government needs to demonstrate that imprisonment is the most cost-effective way of achieving reduction in drug use, production and trafficking. It won’t be able to do this. Interestingly, it never tried.
The most telling sentence in the piece is, "Interestingly, it never tried." The Harper government doesn't work from evidence. It works from conviction. Stating a belief gives it legitimacy. It applies the same approach to economic and foreign policy. If you don't like the word "conviction," try "dogma."
Stephen Harper has confused the titles "Prime Minister" and "Pope." Such confusion is a recipe for failure.