Proposed marijuana laws take 'heavy-handed approach'
The government's messaging around the legalization of marijuana has so far emphasized criminality instead of personal freedom and the failure of prohibition, Toronto criminal lawyer Annamaria Enenajor tells the Vice website.
"I think they took a heavy-handed approach ... that followed in the steps of (Stephen) Harper," she tells the publication. "Raising penalties for offences does not actually decrease crime rates, it's an approach that is all optics and no substance."
The article notes that when the proposed Cannabis Act and accompanying legislation were unrolled, the government highlighted the approach to penalties for breaking the laws.
“For example: selling cannabis to a person under the age of 18 could result in up to 14 years of jail time (selling liquor to minors generally results in fines)," the article says. “And police will now be able to demand a breathalyzer sample from any driver, regardless of whether or not there is evidence to suggest the person is impaired. Currently, cops can only demand a breathalyzer if there's 'reasonable suspicion' the driver is under the influence.”
Some critics say the proposed laws disproportionately target people of colour, the article says.
"This kind of approach isn't going to take down drug empires," says Enenajor, a lawyer with Ruby & Shiller Barristers. “It will essentially penalize low-level distributors who are barely out of youth themselves … who still have great potential to rehabilitate and become productive members of society."
Liberal MP and former Toronto police chief Bill Blair says in the article that someone illegally selling weed to kids is usually a "gangster in a stairwell."
The reality, Enenajor tells Vice, is it's often young black men from poor, racialized communities who start selling pot to their high-school networks as a way of making ends meet.
"It's really a continuation of the overcriminalization of young black men who are involved in low-level drug distribution."
Enenajor says that while judges generally consider youth as a mitigating factor in sentencing, the proposed legislation’s penalty ranges would create an aggregating factor, under the guise of "protecting kids."
"It's based on fear which stems from this culture of the war on drugs," she says.
"I think there should have been some kind of language that takes into consideration more directly the systemic social, economic, and racial factors that perpetuate drug use and drug distribution in certain Canadian communities."