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Ottawa revives marijuana production penalties

The federal government has brought back its previous plans to impose new mandatory prison sentences for illicit production of one of Canada’s highest-margin crops.

Proposed amendments to the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act would impose mandatory jail time for producing and selling illegal drugs including marijuana.

The legislation, re-introduced Friday in the House of Commons, calls for a mandatory prison sentence of two years for anyone convicted of running a large marijuana grow operation (“grow-op”), defined as at least 500 plants.

The amendments also propose to increase the maximum penalty for marijuana production to 14 years, up from seven. A conviction for dealing drugs “such as marijuana” for the purposes of organized crime, or when a weapon or violence is involved, would carry a mandatory one-year prison sentence.

Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson on Friday called the amendments “a proportionate and measured response designed to disrupt criminal enterprise; drug producers and dealers who threaten the safety of our communities must face tougher penalties.

“Our message to potential offenders is clear: if you sell or produce drugs, you will face jail time.”

A 2004 study by the Fraser Institute illustrated substantial domestic and export markets for the illegal crop. The study estimated Canada’s consumption of marijuana at 164,100 kg in 2000, estimating about 1.84 million users spending $1.8 billion, compared to Canadians’ $2.3 billion in expenditures on tobacco that year.

The B.C.-based think tank’s report estimated grow-op marijuana sales as forming roughly 2.8 per cent (or $3.66 billion) of British Columbia’s $130.8 billion gross domestic product in 2000, assuming a per-kilogram price of $5,077.

By comparison, British Columbia’s sales of legitimate agricultural products in 2007 were worth about $2.67 billion, according to Statistics Canada.

The province’s export markets for the crop have proven similarly lucrative — if undetected, that is. A truckload of B.C. beef cattle was detained and its driver arrested last weekend by U.S. customs officials in Washington state after US$6 million in “B.C. bud” was allegedly found in the floor panels of the cattle trailer.

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