Pubdate: Wed, 05 Apr 2006
Source: Barrie Advance, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2006 Metroland Printing, Publishing and Distributing
Author: John Devine


It's no secret the new Conservative government is more prudish 
regarding casual use of marijuana than its Liberal predecessor, but 
don't expect Barrie cops to be on a stepped-up 'doobie' patrol anytime soon.

Despite news that police in the GTA are cracking down on tokers after 
sniffing the prevailing winds from Ottawa, it will be "business as 
usual" in Barrie, according to Police Chief Wayne Frechette.

What's usual for Barrie? Most possession charges result from 
investigations of other crimes, from previous arrests or from 
flagrant, public use of the drug. If you are walking down the street 
on the "business end of a big doob," the chances of attracting the 
attention of police are fairly high. But if you're strolling downtown 
with a couple of joints in your pocket, intending to have a discreet 
puff later, police are unlikely to swoop down to conduct a search of 
your person. "How would we know? We have to have reasonable and 
probable grounds (to conduct a search)," says Frechette.

Governments can "huff and puff" all they want about the pros and cons 
of decriminalizing marijuana, but at the end of the day "it's what 
the courts think" that determines how simple pot possession is 
regarded. The courts have been lenient in recent years when it comes 
to dealing with pot charges. It burns up a lot of police time to 
follow possession charges through the court, only to see them reduced 
or tossed out. And to be blunt, police have bigger concerns when it 
comes to drugs in Barrie.

When I asked him to name the most troubling drug in this city, the 
chief wasted no time offering a one-word reply: "Crack." As well as 
the personal toll the drug takes on users, crack "breeds all sorts of 
other crime."

The city's 'drug problem' is probably similar to that of any urban 
centre the size of Barrie, says the chief. Crack addicts commit 
crimes to support their habits. Pot use "is the lesser, by a long 
shot, of a number of evils."

That's not to say casual use of marijuana is without its perils. 
Frechette has two main concerns with pot: impaired driving and the 
potency of the drug. Unlike impaired driving involving alcohol, 
there's no means to test for impairment from marijuana use. And 30 
years ago, if tokers were smoking Canadian pot, they probably 
couldn't find or afford anything better. These days Canadian-produced 
pot is among the most potent to be found anywhere. In other words, 
the pot being consumed today has significant 'brain-bleed' qualities. 
Doctors also warn pot can be as hazardous to one's health as cigarettes.

Police "are more concerned with grow-ops," says Frechette. Producing 
pot is big business, with Canadian 'bud' a significant export to the 
States. But it's not all munchies and giggles. "There is a fairly 
brisk trade of marijuana southbound and cocaine northbound." And 
grow-ops come with their own unique set of safety issues: 
booby-traps, mold and illegal electricity hook-ups among them.

Because of the court's approach to simple possession, a type of 
decriminalizing has already occurred, the chief says. And there 
doesn't appear to be any 'reefer madness' sweeping the nation that 
will reverse this trend, regardless of what governments do. Many of 
today's parents smoked pot when they were kids, and no doubt some 
still do, so there seems to be a general societal acceptance of 
casual pot use. Can the day when it's available for sale with other 
government-regulated stimulants (liquor and beer) be that far away?