Yesterday I tweeted about a New Brunswick teenager who was sentenced to 15 days (to be served on weekends) for rolling a marijuana joint at his high school. After a search by police, he was found with 11 grams of marijuana. Here’s an article on the story. At first I was incensed by the story as a sentence like that for a young person would be completely contrary to the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Upon further review, however, I realized this criticism was wrong, as the teenager is in fact 19 years old, and no longer subject to the YCJA.
I’m still incensed. Based on the information I have (which may very well be incomplete), a sentence like that is overly harsh and simply not appropriate in these circumstances. My opinion is based solely on sentencing principles and has nothing to do with political viewpoints on the criminalization of marijuana. Like it or not, it’s illegal to possess marijuana.
In Ontario, those charged with possession of a small amount of marijuana for the first time are usually offered a diversion program by the Crown (often referred to as the federal Crown as drug charges are prosecuted by the federal government). The decision to offer diversion is solely at the discretion of the Crown. While I can’t speak for New Brunswick practices, I would assume the fact that the student possessed the drugs at his high school was an aggravating enough factor that caused the Crown to not offer diversion. If this were the case, I disagree with the decision. A diversion program can still serve as a consequence for breaking the law but will not saddle an accused with any form of record once the matter is dealt with (assuming they are found guilty). As I’ve wrote about in the past, diversion can involve community service, a charitable donation, and even some form of course.
Since diversion appears to have been off the table, let’s turn to the sentence itself. What we have here is an accused person with no criminal record. By sending him to jail, the Judge must enter a conviction, resulting in a criminal record. The jail sentence is also completely unfit in itself for these facts. The proper sentence here, to me, would have been some form of discharge. Frankly, depending on the circumstances of the accused, I would not feel out of place making submissions for an absolute discharge.
For a Judge to order a discharge they must determine if it would be in the interests of the accused (which is obviously is in this case) as well as the interests of society. Here, the Judge clearly wanted to make a statement to society that drugs in high schools are not acceptable. Unfortunately, by doing so, this youthful first offender (which is a factor that should receive heavy consideration; just because one does not fall under the YCJA does not mean that the principles it stands for should not be taken into account when younger people are before the courts) will have to suffer long-term consequences.
While I agree that drugs have no place in schools, this was not an aggravating enough feature to have made such a glaring example of this individual. The reality is there is punishment in having to go through the court process and there will likely be consequences at school. A 15 day jail sentence is just entirely out of range and, in my respectful view, does not accurately take into account the principles of sentencing.
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