Pubdate: Mon, 09 Jul 2007
Source: Edmonton Sun (CN AB)
Copyright: 2007 Canoe Limited Partnership.
Author: Alexander Panetta, Canadian Press
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


Arrests For Simple Possession Spike 30% Or More In Major Cities In 2006

OTTAWA -- Smoking pot is as illegal in Canada as it's ever been but 
some people are toking more boldly than ever before.

Which makes it far easier to arrest them.

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 only 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 all reported increases of 
between 20% and 50% 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 just recently was within a whisker of extinction.

Every federal party except the Conservatives supported a bill to 
decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, 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 
legislation, which died as a result of the federal election on Jan. 23, 2006.

The head of one police association said many forces simply stopped 
laying charges after the Liberals first introduced a 
decriminalization bill under Jean Chretien in 2003.

"There were several police jurisdictions not laying the simple ... 
possession charges," 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 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 never actually passed.

The stillborn bill would have made possession under 15 grams a 
non-criminal offence punishable by fines starting at $150.

Nearly half of Canadians have committed the crime spelled out in 
Section 4 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. It 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 existing laws. They call the decision to 
scrap decriminalization wrong-headed.

But Barry McKnight expressed hope that the Conservatives' coming 
$64-million National Anti-Drug Strategy, promised in the last federal 
budget, will drive home one simple point.

"I'm hoping for a clear message: ... that drugs are bad," said 
Mc-Knight, a drug-policy expert with the Canadian 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."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom