Tougher pot laws dopey, say protesters

Source: The Daily Courier

Copyright: The Okanagan Valley Group of Newspapers, a division of Continental Newspapers Canada Ltd.



By: Ron Seymour

Published: October 3, 2010

John Pichette, who has a medical dispensation to smoke marijuana for health reasons, was front and centre Saturday at a Kelowna rally protesting the possibility of harsher punishments for growing pot.

The Penticton man fashioned himself a marijuana cigarette as two photographers and a videographer filmed him up close.

"God, I feel like a movie star," Pichette joked. "Please, no autographs."

About two dozen people joined the rally outside the office of Kelowna–Lake Country MP Ron Cannan at the Capri Centre Mall. They were protesting pending federal legislation that would impose mandatory minimum jail sentences for people who cultivate marijuana plants.

"It‘s bad policy that will target youths and do nothing about organized crime," rally organizer Robert Nisbet said. "The gang members will have the money and the lawyers to keep themselves out of jail."

"It‘s all just lies and propaganda for the government to say that marijuana is a dangerous drug," Nisbet said. "The better approach is to legalize, regulate and tax it, like any industry or business."

The Kelowna rally was one of dozens taking place across the country. But since there wasn‘t anything planned in the South Okanagan, Sam Chambers, a 38–year–old computer technician, drove up from Penticton.

"Education and health care are massively underfunded," Chambers said. "It‘s going to cost the government billions to incarcerate non–violent marijuana users. It‘s fiscally and socially irresponsible."

Mall security allowed the demonstrators to gather on private property near the entrance, but told them not to attach any signs or posters to the building‘s walls.

One placard showed a picture of Prime Minister Stephen Harper smiling before a phalanx of riot police as they fired tear gas. Another sign read Prohibition Funds Organized Crime.

Some rally participants refused to have their pictures taken or give their names, saying they might get in trouble with employers. However, John MacPherson, a 52–year–old man on a disability pension, said: "Using marijuana‘s nothing to be ashamed about. It‘s just like liquor, except the government hasn‘t woken up to the fact they could make a mint if they taxed it."

Bill S–10 would compel judges to impose a mandatory prison sentence of six to nine months on people who grow more than five pot plants, if there is evidence the person intends to sell the marijuana.

When the bill was introduced for consideration earlier this year, Minister of Justice and Attorney General Rob Nicholson said: "Illicit drug production is the most significant source of money for gangs and organized crime in Canada."

"This legislation is essential to assist law–enforcement agencies in cracking down on drug producers and dealers who threaten the safety of our children, neighbourhoods and communities," Nicholson said.

It‘s expected the bill will be voted on in the House of Commons this fall or winter.