Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Punish them

Canada is all set to go back in time.

Back in time, that is, to an era where informed people actually thought that harsh penalties for minor drug crimes and big jails were going to clean up society and make things better.  In this era though we know that the war on drugs has utterly failed to stop drugs from being available and has mostly managed to spend enormous sums of government money and put a lot of young people in prison.  Prison, we should note, is a place that destroys people's lives and turns minor offenders into lifetime criminals.  If the government were considering how to spend 45 grand a year I wouldn't start out with "Destroy one person's life and push them into serious crime."

That said, the new Conservative C10 crime bill is set to pass into law in Canada.  We will see mandatory prison sentences for growing as few a six marijuana plants and lots of people will end up doing long terms in prison where they can look forward to getting out with terrible employment prospects and lots of criminals contacts.  Wonderful.

It is hilarious when people around the world are looking at Canada in confusion.  Ummm, didn't you guys get the memo?  Lots of other countries have tried that tactic over the past few decades and it has clearly just supported violent crime and been a terrible drain on their economies, not to mention not lowering the rate of drug use!  Nonetheless we are pushing ahead with outdated, foolish laws that do nothing to achieve their ostensible goals and make life worse for everyone.

All this so that Stephen Harper can look tough.  He promised to get tough on crime and he is going to look tough no matter the dollar cost, no matter the social cost and no matter how ineffective it is.  We don't need a leader who is tough.  We need a leader who makes effective decisions for improving the lives of everyone living in this country.  Hopefully a few years from now we will get someone like that but for now we are stuck with spending money to create career criminals so that we can prevent people from using harmless recreational drugs.


  1. Wouldn't someone growing an illegal substance be likely to already have criminal contacts?

    Can we really say the government is destroying their lives when they had a choice to make and chose to go down an illegal road? I'd be hoisting the blame for the life ruining on the person making the decision there...

  2. The answer to the first question is no. I might well grow some marijuana plants for myself and a few friends if I lived out in the country or otherwise had enough space to do so and I have absolutely no criminal contacts. There are plenty of small time growers who are not at all involved in organized crime.

    The point is not who to blame. The point is that some people grow marijuana and we need to figure out what an appropriate punishment for that act is. Since marijuana is not harmful and growing it hurts nobody the appropriate punishment is *nothing at all*. The lives of the people in question were perfectly fine up to the point of being arrested so yes, we can confidently say their punishment is unjust and the government is ruining their lives. Prison is to put people away to prevent them from ruining the lives of others and marijuana growers do not do this.

  3. Blaming individuals for making bad decisions can work okay in personal life, but it makes bad public policy. If we had summary execution for jay walking then I think we'd be right to be outraged that people were being killed for jay walking - even if they knew the law when they did it. Governments have to ask what the consequences are of the policies they enact. What will society look like if they do one thing or another. After all, it's their policy to make something illegal in the first place, an alternative would simply be to remove that law.

    We know the policy they are taking is a disaster waiting to happen. The ray of light is that Quebec has already basically said they won't be enforcing it, which gives hope that other places won't as well (it's hard to imagine B.C. enforcing it, I hope Ontario follows suit). Of course provinces can't re-write the criminal code, they can only decide how to administer it, so if they want to not send people to jail for pot then they have to simple not investigate/arrest/try people for those crimes - that is, they set their priorities for their law enforcement spending elsewhere.

    Basically this policy gives provinces a choice - enact policies that everyone else in the world is now reversing because of how damaging they were - or stop enforcing marijuana laws altogether (except in some major organized crime cases). In ten or fifteen years this law might be seen as the law that legalized marijuana in Canada or the law that bankrupted some provinces.