Monday, December 14

Musings on marijuana

The Canadian senate reformed a piece of drug legislation that would create mandatory sentences for people convicted of growing pot.

The bill originally said the mandatory sentence would apply to people growing at least five plants, but it seems the Senate felt that was too strict and changed the threshold to 201 plants. I would be willing to bet that if the legislation passes with the 201 threshold, there will be many grow-ops that decide to grow exactly 200 plants. People -- even criminals -- respond to incentives, after all. It also gives a potential argument lawyers could use to get their clients off easier ("But your honour, the 201st and 202nd plants were dead, so they didn't count").

But what seems especially strange to me is this:
"The Senate also amended the bill to instruct judges during sentencing to take into account the special circumstances of aboriginals, who are over-represented in the prison population."
I would have thought the sentence should fit the crime, not the skin colour. Why should judges be urged to judge two criminals differently depending on their ethnicity? That strikes me as being racist. I'm all for looking for ways to give First Nations people a leg up, but I think it would be better to do that before an individual chooses marijuana cultivation as their career, not after.

Ultimately, I think the government is probably fighting a futile battle with pot. People are going to disagree over the morality of marijuana, but it's such a strong underground industry that the police simply don't have the resources to wipe it out even with stronger legislation behind them. I see four benefits in legalizing marijuana: the cops could shift their resources to fighting other crimes, it would be easier to regulate the industry to ensure that people aren't sold pot that is laced with harder drugs, it might reduce gang crime if you could buy marijuana at Wal-Mart instead of from a dealer, and governments could tax the heck out of it.

A recent article in the Times Colonist cites some numbers that give a vague indication of just how big the industry might be: a particular seller in Victoria claims to bring in roughly $2 million in annual revenue. I'm sure the annual revenue from the marijuana industry on a national basis must be staggering, and tax revenue from it might be a useful way for governments to help trim their deficits.