Forecast: Increased Crime

The Senate has recently passed a bill to provide mandatory minimum sentences (MMS) for anyone growing more than 5 marijuana plants “with the intent to sell”. Growers with 200 or more plants face a maximum of 14 years in jail.

According to the Department of Justice, the proposed law “would help disrupt criminal enterprises by targeting drug suppliers”.

What evidence might we accept in five years from now that the law has met its stated objective? Given that “disrupt” means only to “interrupt the usual course of a process or activity”, almost any policing activity can and likely will be interpreted as being disruptive to criminal enterprises. Note that the government’s claimed benefits of the proposed legislation is strategically fuzzy.

Disruption can include arrests of leaders in criminal organizations but who are not convicted in court because of, for example, procedural violations by the police or Crown. A failure to convict or imprison cannabis offenders still qualifies as “disruption”, but at what cost to the Canadian taxpayer?

According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, it costs us about $147,000 a year to keep a federal offender in custody. Professor Neil Boyd from Simon Fraser University calculates that if an additional 500 inmates go jail for six months, it will cost $30 million more a year to house these new inmates, and that’s just for BC.

From what we know after 80 years of prohibition experience, the law’s impact will likely include at least the following:

The Senate has recently passed a bill to provide mandatory minimum sentences (MMS) for anyone growing more than 5 marijuana plants “with the intent to sell”. Growers with 200 or more plants face a maximum of 14 years in jail.

According to the Department of Justice, the proposed law “would help disrupt criminal enterprises by targeting drug suppliers”. What evidence might we accept in five years from now that the law has met its stated objective?

Given that “disrupt” means only to “interrupt the usual course of a process or activity”, almost any policing activity can and likely will be interpreted as being disruptive to criminal enterprises. Note that the government’s claimed benefits of the proposed legislation is strategically fuzzy.

Disruption can include arrests of leaders in criminal organizations but who are not convicted in court because of, for example, procedural violations by the police or Crown. A failure to convict or imprison cannabis offenders still qualifies as “disruption”, but at what cost to the Canadian taxpayer?

According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, it costs us about $147,000 a year to keep a federal offender in custody. Professor Neil Boyd from Simon Fraser University calculates that if an additional 500 inmates go jail for six months, it will cost $30 million more a year to house these new inmates, and that’s just for BC.

From what we know after 80 years of prohibition experience, the law’s impact will likely include at least the following:

  • Cannabis prices will be higher than they are now. As producers assume more risks to cultivate cannabis, associated costs will be passed to consumers. The higher cost of cannabis production means larger sums of cash need to be stored, transported and laundered into the legitimate economy. Crimes involving these transactions will increase.
  • Illicitly obtained cash is a target for those who don’t have to worry about their victims calling the police. Violent crime associated with “settling scores” in some parts of the cannabis trade will increase with a risk of “collateral damage” in our communities.
  • To the extent that some buyers will use the proceeds of property crime to purchase cannabis products, property crime will increase.
  • People charged with crimes carrying mandatory sentences will be more likely to plead not guilty than to risk lengthy prison terms. An unknown number of proceedings will end in acquittals because of the Crown’s “undue delay” in bringing matters to trial.
  • Defense lawyers and the Crown will plea-bargain outside the courtroom. Suddenly 250 seized cannabis plants get counted as 199. This deal gets the Crown a conviction while the accused avoids the higher penalties aimed at growers of larger cannabis operations.

And that’s just a partial list of the likely unintended consequences of MMS for marijuana. The law will not reduce the supply of cannabis in our country, nor will it prevent the proliferation of criminal enterprises. But it will cost taxpayers dearly.

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