Pubdate: Tue, 24 Feb 2004
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2004 The Toronto Star
Author: Betsy Powell
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


Increase Related To Arrests For Pot Possession

Thunder Bay Is City With Most Drug Offences

While Parliament flirted with decriminalizing marijuana in recent
years, cannabis busts across the country have jumped to a 20-year
high, Statistics Canada said yesterday.

The increase was largely the result of an 80 per cent jump in the
number of police arrests for cannabis possession from 1992 to 2002.
The number of trafficking offences declined during that period,
according to a report released by the government agency, Canadian
Centre for Justice Statistics.

Over-all in 2002, police laid 93,000 charges related to the Controlled
Drugs and Substances Act. Two-thirds of them were for possession, 22
per cent were for trafficking and the remainder were for offences
involving importation and production.

Three-quarters of drug charges were cannabis related - 72 per cent of
them for possession, the report said. The age group charged most
frequently were youths aged 18 to 24, followed by youths aged 12 to

There were more drug charges in British Columbia in 2002 than in any
other province, almost double the national rate. Among cities, Thunder
Bay had the highest rate of police-reported drug offences (571 per
100,000) compared to the Toronto Police Service rate of (211 per 100,000).

Thunder Bay Police Chief Robert Herman said yesterday the rate of drug
arrests in the Northern Ontario city of about 110,000 jumped
dramatically during the 1990s after the force put more resources into
drug enforcement efforts with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and
Ontario Provincial Police.

"We do a lot of enforcement. .. (and) we do have a drug problem here
like they do in many other communities," he said in a telephone interview.

Despite registering the highest level of drug busts among Canadian
cities, Herman said police in Thunder Bay - and all other
jurisdictions - are just "scratching the surface" when it comes to the
scope of the illegal drug trade.

"We always know regardless of what we seize in quantity of drugs there
is a lot more out there," he said.

"My view is we need more education programs. We need more treatment
programs. Unless you can get something where these people can go into
treatment to break the cycle it's just endless and I don't think
enforcement is the answer."

Toronto lawyer Alan Young, a law professor, author and leading
authority on drug prosecutions, said the police statistics crunched by
the Centre for Justice Statistics highlight a discrepancy between
public attitudes and policing priorities. "It's really doing a
disservice to Canadians if these figures are representing a law
enforcement priority in the last decade because this is not what
Canadians seem to want and it's just inconsistent with the political
discussion going on," he said.

"Instead, they should be trying to figure out how to reallocate some
of their money that relates to cannabis law enforcement to things that
matter to Canadians, like sexual assault enforcement and robbery."

Most troubling, he added, is that it seems that law enforcers appear
to be targeting the users, not the suppliers, when "going after the
users never does anything in terms of the supply issue."

A ruling in December from the Supreme Court of Canada upheld current
marijuana laws, but the Liberals under Prime Minister Paul Martin
appear to be committed to partial decriminalization.

In a year-end television interview shortly after the ruling was
released, Martin repeated his intention to revive the
decriminalization bill, first proposed under former prime minister
Jean Chretien, that would lift criminal penalties for those caught
with "a very small quantity" of pot - 15 grams or less.

The law now provides up to six months in jail or fines of up to $1,000
on summary conviction. If the crown chooses to prosecute a pot
possession charge as an indictable offence, a conviction could bring a
jail term of up to seven years.

Even the federal government has acknowledged that the law is unevenly
enforced across the country.
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