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Stiff drug penalties are tough on youth, students tell MPs

RCMP officers display cocaine after a drug bust in Montreal, June, 2010.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press/Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Drug policies focused on criminal convictions and prison terms overwhelmingly target young Canadians and should be modified to include alternatives to simple punishment, a national students' group is telling federal politicians on Thursday.

Representatives of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, which has 12 chapters at universities across Canada, are meeting with MPs to discuss the effects of so-called tough-on-crime measures on the current generation of young adults.

Canada' youth incarceration rate has dipped in recent years but is still "unfortunately high" and young people are disproportionately feeling the impacts of criminalization, Caleb Chepesiuk, the group's executive director told reporters.

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"People under the age of 25 have the highest rates of illegal drug use and also drug offences," he said. "And while incarceration rates have gone down, the number of young people being charged with offences and put through the court system has gone up."

Even if a young person caught with illegal drugs avoids prison they may have their future ambitions sidelined by a criminal record, he said.

Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy does not advocate the use of illicit drugs, Mr. Chepesiuk said. But it hopes the federal government will look at the "mountains of evidence" that say investments in community support systems will save money and reduce drug abuse.

Mr. Chepesiuk said he believes this position is broadly reflective of the views held by Canadians in the 18- to 25-year-old age group.

But that generation has not voiced opposition to punitive drug policies at the ballot box. And politicians do not feel pressured to tailor policies to suit segments of the population that do not vote. It is estimated that just 37.4 of people between the ages of 18 and 24 turned out to polling stations in the 2008 federal election. The cost of crime bills will undoubtedly feature prominently in campaign rhetoric, should a vote be held this spring.

"These issues have caught young people's attention," said Mr. Chepesiuk. "We have been promoting youth engagement and just getting involved in these issues and aware of it and I think that's going to be a big step in getting youth out, (and) concerned about the next election, concerned about what politicians are saying."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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