OTTAWA - A Conservative senator is speaking out against his own government's omnibus crime bill.
Quebec Senator Pierre Claude Nolin says he can't support the massive Bill C-10 mainly because of a section that deals with growing marijuana plants.
The proposed legislation has just passed second reading in the upper chamber, and will land in a Senate committee when Parliament resumes at the end of January.
Nolin has been a longtime advocate for ending the prohibition on pot. He was the chairman of a landmark Senate committee in 2002 that called for the substance to be legalized.
The omnibus crime bill covers nine distinct pieces of legislation, and introduces mandatory minimum sentences for a number of new offences.
Growing anywhere between six and 200 pot plants can land a person in prison for a minimum of six months — nine months if there are extenuating circumstances such as growing near young people.
Critics have pointed out the proposed penalties are stiffer than some mandatory minimum sentences for child sex crimes.
"The courts and the police already have the tools to face the major problems of trafficking and the gangs, they all have those tools," Nolin said during second-reading debate of the bill Friday.
"But don't get into the business of changing the CDSA (Controlled Drugs and Substances Act), it's bad. The idea of prohibition is not good, it does not work, it's going to create more problems than anything else."
Nolin says many among the estimated one million Canadians who use marijuana for medical purposes and grow their own plants will be forced to turn to criminal sources of cannabis to get their supply.
"So C-10 will exactly do the reverse of the intent of the bill. By the way, the criminal world is already laughing all the way to the coffers because definitely the amendments to the CDSA in C-10 will provoke a bigger market for them...," Nolin said.
"I'm sick, I want to alleviate my pain, and instead of growing it myself I'll buy it from a friend of a friend of a friend. Is that what we want? Me, I don't want that."
Nolin says he's also concerned about the impact on young offenders. He points out that a majority of young people between the ages of 12 and 17 have tried cannabis, and that some will grow plants at college or university campuses.
He says sending a young person to prison for six months because they are convicted of a serious drug offence and tried as an adult is not good policy.
"There's only one solution, a long-term solution. Get rid of prohibition," Nolin said to applause in the Senate.
"At least use the short-term solution, don't touch it, keep the status quo, don't amend the CDSA. The CDSA is not good, but at least it's there, and we haven't figured out what we're going to do, that's the long-term solution, but don't touch it."