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 cannabis is a more effective policy approach in reducing crime.
The law enforcers on Wednesday 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 upon which those proposed in the Canadian federal government's Bill C-10 legislation seem to be modeled.
|Norm Stamper, LEAP: "[T]he stricter sentencing proposed in the bill will only serve to help fill the jails"|
"Through our years of service enforcing anti-marijuana laws, we have seen the devastating consequences of those 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, "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 cannabis 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 the jails. It will not reduce harms related to the illicit marijuana trade, make Canadian streets safer or diminish gang activity."
|That was awkward...|
|Canadian Senator Larry Campbell: "The U.S. and many of its citizens have suffered greatly due to the inflexible and dogmatic nature of mandatory minimum sentences"|
"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," said retired Washington State Superior Court Judge David Nichols. "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," Stamper said. "Prohibition continues to fill the coffers of organized criminals making communities on both sides of the border less safe."
"As a counsel to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee during the 1980s, I played a major role in writing the mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws which later turned out to be not only ineffective in reducing drug use, but which directly contributed to the disastrous over-incarceration program in this country," said Eric Sterling, who helped the U.S. Congress write the federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws. "I urge policy makers in Canada to learn from our mistakes."
"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," said Canadian Senator Larry Campbell, a member of LEAP's advisory board and a former member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the RCMP drug squad, and also former mayor of Vancouver, B.C.
"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," Campbell said.
For a copy of the law enforcement letter [PDF], visit http://www.leap.cc/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/regulation-in-canada.pdf