Pot arrests in Canada drop
amid uncertainty over laws
Toronto Globe and Mail 8/1/2004
OTTAWA - The number of people charged with possession of marijuana fell
by 30 percent in Canada last year as police turned a blind eye to dope
smokers due to uncertainty over the country's pot laws, Statistics Canada
reported last week. "This drop may have been, in part, a result of
a climate of uncertainty among police, given recent court rulings questioning
the constitutionality of current laws regarding cannabis possession," the
The drop in marijuana charges in 2003 contributed to an overall 8 percent
drop in drug prosecutions in Canada, the first such decline since 1993.
Prime Minister Paul Martin says he plans to reintroduce legislation this
fall that would decriminalize possession of small quantities of marijuana
- 15 grams or less. A similar bill died when the last election was called.
Police were more likely to use discretion due to the proposed law in
possession cases involving small amounts of pot, said Brian Miller, chief
administrative officer for the Ontario Police Association.
"For a while there, it was hard for us to get convictions because
of the challenges in court," he said. "It's pretty rare for officers
to charge first-time offenders in these cases. There's a lot of discretion
Last year, 41,237 marijuana possession charges were reported. Marijuana
possession accounts for nearly half of all reported drug crimes.
The report also found that British Columbia has had the highest rate
of drug crimes among the provinces for the past 20 years. It was the only
province to show an increase (by 6 percent) in reported drug charges in
2003, including a 3 percent hike in prosecutions of marijuana possession.
Conservative justice critic Vic Toews criticized Ottawa for taking so
long to move on its marijuana reform bill. He said it leaves law enforcement
officers in limbo on how to proceed on marijuana possession cases involving
"It results in unequal justice across the country," he said. "It's
Toews said the federal government must implement a national drug strategy
if it proceeds with the bill to decriminalize marijuana possession.
Last week's report follows a Statscan study released that showed the
percentage of Canadians who have admitted using marijuana has almost doubled
- from 6.5 percent to 12.2 percent between 1989 and 2002.
The Liberal government wants to decriminalize possession of small amounts
of marijuana and have the offenses dealt with through tickets and fines
instead of criminal charges. Supporters argue that simple possession cases
take up too many resources that could be better used to fight more serious
crimes and that the offense does not warrant a criminal record.
By KIM LUNMAN