Busts for pot posession up in Canada

By Euphoric · Jul 10, 2007 · Updated Jul 10, 2007 · ·
  1. Euphoric
    Couldn't decide if this should go into marijuana, law and order or news. Mods, feel free to relocate.


    Pot busts bounce back

    Since decriminalization bill died early last year, it's `business as usual' on marijuana arrests
    Jul 09, 2007 04:30 AM

    OTTAWA–The number of people arrested for smoking pot rose dramatically in several Canadian cities last year after the Conservatives took office and killed a bill to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.

    The spike in arrests for simple possession of cannabis appears in data compiled by The Canadian Press from municipal police forces through interviews and Access to Information Act requests.

    National statistics will be released next week, but preliminary figures suggest the number of arrests jumped by more than one-third in several Canadian cities.

    Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa and Halifax reported increases of between 20 and 50 per cent in 2006, while Montreal and Calgary saw their number of arrests dip a few percentage points from the previous year.

    As a result, thousands of people were charged with a criminal offence that recently was within a whisker of extinction.

    Every party in the House of Commons except the Conservatives supported the decriminalization bill, but the Liberal government that sponsored it never brought it to a final vote.

    Several police officials say the trend is linked directly to that aborted legislation, which died as a result of the federal election on Jan. 23, 2006.

    Some forces simply stopped laying simple possession charges after the Liberals introduced the decriminalization bill under Jean Chrétien in 2003, said Terry McLaren, president of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police.

    "Everybody was waiting for what was going to happen. ... There'd be no use clogging up the court system with that decriminalization bill there.

    When that was defeated, I'd say it was business as usual."

    The number of people charged plunged from 26,882 in 2002 and remained relatively steady, below 19,000, for the three years that decriminalization was being debated in Parliament.

    But police say many pot smokers, especially younger ones, appear unaware that the bill didn't pass.

    So even if marijuana consumption remains as illegal in Canada as it has been since 1923, police say some people are toking more boldly than they've ever toked before, which makes it easier to arrest them.

    "You'd have a youth smoking a joint out on the street without any fear of being caught," said Toronto police Det. Doug McCutcheon.

    The stillborn bill by the previous Liberal government would have made possession of less than 15 grams of marijuana a non-criminal offence punishable by fines starting at $150.

    But Section 4 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the law that's still in effect, sets out a maximum six-month prison sentence and a $1,000 fine for anyone caught with 30 grams of marijuana or less.

    Liberalization advocates say 600,000 Canadians unfairly carry a criminal record because of the law.

    Only about half the people arrested for simple possession even get charged, and the vast majority of those who are charged for pot possession alone never do any time.

    In some cases people are handcuffed, brought to jail, and strip-searched by police after being stopped. Others are just told to toss away their joint or are served papers ordering them to appear in court.

    That erratic application infuriates critics of the status quo.

    One pot activist has been arrested at least seven times, been strip-searched, forced to ride in a police van with more violent criminals, and was once stopped for carrying just enough weed to roll a tiny joint.

    Marc-Boris St-Maurice compares that with the last time he was stopped by police, a few weeks ago on a trendy Montreal boulevard. The former leader and founder of the federal Marijuana party tossed away his joint on the sidewalk and ended up chatting casually with two officers about politics.

    One Montreal cop who asked not to be identified said some officers can spend an entire career on the force without ever arresting the people they catch smoking a joint.

    "I'd rather stop someone breaking into a house or stealing a car," he said.

    He said some officers might lay charges in conjunction with an unrelated offence to increase the likelihood of a criminal conviction – for instance, if they detect pot during a domestic-abuse investigation.

    One drug-policy expert points out that alcohol consumption and cigarette-smoking rates have plummeted since the 1970s, while pot use has risen.

    Tighter controls and public awareness of the dangers associated with booze and cigarettes have succeeded where prohibition failed, said Eugene

    Oscapella, a lawyer and criminology professor at the University of Ottawa.
    "Going into the 21st century, we should know better than to bludgeon the use of this drug with criminal law," he said. "It doesn't work, hasn't worked, there's no prospect that it ever will work. Yet we continue to do it."

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  1. Euphoric


    Pot arrests target gangs, says chief

    Three years after legal confusion over marijuana possession, arrests almost double

    Jul 10, 2007 04:30
    As marijuana-related arrests soar across Canada, Toronto's police chief stressed the city's own swollen statistics stem from a crackdown on gangs and street violence – not on recreational puffers.

    "Our focus in the communities where the street gangs operate has been on the violence," Bill Blair said yesterday in an interview.

    "But we're also finding that ... one of their principal sources of income, in those street gangs, is the trafficking of drugs ... including marijuana."

    Toronto police arrested nearly 2,500 people on marijuana-possession charges in 2006, a 35 per cent increase from the previous year and almost double the number of arrests three years ago.

    Asked whether this included those who smoke without being involved in organized crime, Blair replied: "Frankly, we're too busy trying to deal with the priorities of this city."

    York Region police Insp. Tom Carrique agreed, and said police aren't likely to make arrests in the middle of the annual Marijuana March.

    Alan Young, an Osgoode Hall Law School professor who has led efforts to reform Canada's marijuana laws, says the jump in arrests is "not surprising."
    Young dates the surge in arrests back to two developments in 2003. In January of that year, an Ontario Superior Court judge, finding that Canada's marijuana laws failed to provide medical users with a safe way of obtaining pot, declared that the prohibition on simple possession would be struck down within six months if the problem wasn't fixed.

    A few months later, Martin Cauchon, then justice minister, introduced legislation to decriminalize possession of less than 30 grams.

    The legislation was not put to a final vote in Parliament before the June 2004 election and it was not revived by the Liberal minority government or by the current Conservative government.

    "I noticed after the confusion of 2003 and 2004, there seemed to be a concerted effort by police to reassert their authority," said Young. "I guess the numbers are showing up now."

    Those numbers show that in Toronto, possession arrests increased from 1,837 in 2005 to 2,482 in 2006.

    "There was a period of time there where there was uncertainty," said Staff Insp. Don Campbell of Toronto's drug squad.

    Once the bill died "officers were reminded that possession of marijuana is illegal."

    Young said the increase in arrests could also be tied to a rise in marijuana use. In 2004, the Canadian Addiction Survey found the number of Canadians 15 and over who used marijuana had doubled since 1994, with 14 per cent saying they had used cannabis in the previous year.

    The difficulty with criminalizing a drug used so widely is largely what motivated Cauchon to introduce his bill.

    The existing legislation was impossible to enforce consistently and was out of step with Canadian values, he explained at the time, a view many still share.

    "I can't think of a greater waste of time than enforcing the marijuana laws in this country," said Paul Copeland, a Toronto criminal lawyer.

    It's "quite amazing," Copeland said, that 37 years after a royal commission headed by Gerald Le Dain recommended possession of marijuana no longer be a criminal offence, "we're still thinking this is a problem."
  2. Euphoric
    And finally some opinions:


    Enforcement or harassment?
    "Charging someone for pot possession is a waste of resources – for police and the justice system. But some cops go by the book and apply the law every time.
    Unidentified Montreal police officer

    Probably seven out of 10 (possession busts) have been arrested on another charge ... Or (they) were brought to the attention of police for another reason and a subsequent investigation reveals the possession.
    Terry McLaren, head of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police
    Marijuana is a harmful drug. It's as simple as that – no ifs, ands or buts. Period, end of sentence.
    Barry McKnight, drug policy expert with the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police
    It's totally random. It's like playing the slot machines.
    Marc-Boris St-Maurice, Montreal marijuana activist on police enforcement

    They may charge more people, but they're not deterring youth, they're not putting in funds for education or prevention. The (Tories) have a very regressive policy that's in line with what the U.S. is doing in its so-called war on drugs – which is a total failure.
    Libby Davies, New Democrat MP
  3. Bajeda
    Maybe this will make you feel better.
  4. Euphoric
    Oh it does it does it does :) Thanks for sharing.
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