Pubdate: Mon, 09 Jul 2007
Source: Daily News, The (CN NS)
Copyright: 2007 The Daily News
Author: Alexander Panetta, The Canadian Press
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Canada)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)

Halifax among cities where arrests spike

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.

Halifax, Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa all 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

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

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.

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.

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 far easier to arrest them.

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