June 26 is the United Nations’ International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. Around the world, many countries are using the UN's position to justify the excessive criminalization of drug users. In Canada, it's led to Bill C-10, the Conservatives Government’s Safe Streets and Communities Act, which was enacted in March 2012.

The bill institutes mandatory minimum sentencing for various drug possession charges. Under the Act, possession for the purpose of trafficking now carries a one-year minimum sentence in certain circumstances.

Mandatory minimum sentences are bad public policy for everyone. They are expensive and they don't work.  For drug charges, mandatory jail time cost taxpayers a fortune in policing, court and jail costs. The Safe Streets and Communities Act is a policy that does little to stem the sale and consumption of illicit drugs. It also places our most marginalized citizens at great risk.

Pivot outlined the social costs of mandatory minimums in a report last year called Throwing Away the Keys: The human and social cost of mandatory minimum sentences. In short, mandatory minimum sentences in Canada have a disproportionate effect on women, on aboriginal people, and on people who are involved in the drug trade because of their addiction. Pivot says this disproportionate effect goes so far that it is unconstitutional.

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