Pubdate: Tue, 06 May 2014
Source: Niagara This Week (CN ON)
Copyright: 2014 Metroland Printing, Publishing and Distributing
Author: Paul Forsyth


NIAGARA - If regional politicians have their way, Niagara residents 
nabbed with a joint in their pocket soon might not face a possible 
criminal record and jail sentence.

That's because the majority of regional council members are backing a 
call from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, which is 
asking the federal government to amend legislation to allow police 
officers the leeway to issue tickets - rather than laying criminal 
charges - to people caught with 30 grams or less of marijuana.

At present, anyone convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana 
can be jailed for up to five years, and first-time offenders can face 
fines of $1,000 and up to six months in jail.

Last summer, the police chiefs association said the tens of thousands 
of pot possession charges laid each year in Canada gobbles up police 
resources, with officers spending countless hours in courts.

St. Catharines Mayor Brian McMullan introduced the motion at the May 
1 regional council meeting to support the chiefs association to allow 
ticketing for possession. He noted Niagara Regional Police Chief 
Jeffrey McGuire backs the police chiefs' association stand on the issue.

McMullan said allowing officers the option of issuing tickets could 
free up scarce police resources.

"We talk about the strain on our police resources constantly," he 
said. "The chiefs of police have taken a sound, rational, responsible 
position with respect to marijuana legislation."

In a recent report he submitted to the police services board, McGuire 
said at present police only have the option when someone is caught 
with a small amount of pot of either turning a blind eye or laying 
charges, "resulting in a lengthy, difficult process" that can lead to 
a criminal record.

He noted the police chiefs' association is not asking for pot to be 
decriminalized, noting cannabis can have a negative impact on 
people's health, and that studies have linked it with mental illness 
among teens and young adults.

Fort Erie Coun. John Teal said whether or not pot charges strain 
police resources should be irrelevant. Giving cops the option to 
issue tickets rather than laying charges is in essence 
decriminalizing pot possession, he said.

"The law is the law," he told council. "The enforcement of the law is 
the responsibility of the police. That should not depend if their 
resources are strained or not."

Council members voted 19-5 to endorse the police chiefs' position, 
and to send the resolution to local MPs and to the Federation of 
Canadian Municipalities.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom