Pubdate: Tue, 21 Apr 2015
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2015 Times Colonist
Author: Jack Knox


Monday morning, flipping through the radio, came across a commercial
on 92.9, the Bellingham classic rock station, reminding listeners that
while marijuana might be legal in Washington state, you still can't
smoke it in public, have to be at least 21 years old to use it and may
not drive stoned.

Right, recreational use of marijuana is legal in Washington now,
unlike B.C., where a first-time offender can expect a $1,000 fine, six
months in Wilkie and a criminal record.

Pause here to double over laughing. And pass the Doritos.

In practice, dope smokers don't have a lot to worry about in Victoria, 
as reflected by the throng packing circus-like Centennial Square for the 
annual 4:20 light-up Monday: music, tents, flags, banners, a costume 
contest with bongs as prizes.

More smoke than Ribfest, great clouds of it billowing into the sky.
City Hall shut down its air intakes and asked staff to keep windows

Organizer Ted Smith contrasted the scene with the inaugural Centennial
Square smoke-in 18 years ago.

"The first one, there were about 50 of us in a circle on the lawn."
They were afraid of getting busted then. No more.

"It's a celebration now," he says. "Initially it was much more of a

Anecdotally, police say they don't bother arresting people for simple
possession these days because the Crown won't approve charges, not
unless other crimes are involved, too.

Prosecutors don't want to waste precious time and resources using a
sledgehammer to kill a fly,

Get caught smoking a joint by Victoria police and chances are they'll
just make you destroy it in front of them.

Get found with a baggie, they'll seize it for destruction, but that's

Might get a sterner response elsewhere, though, particularly in
jurisdictions policed by the Mounties.

Neil Boyd, who heads the criminology department at Simon Fraser
University, says a more aggressive approach by the RCMP explains why
possession charges actually more than doubled in B.C. to 3,774 in 2011
from 1,737 in 2005. Others suspect those stats reflect the number of
dealers and growers getting charged with possession instead of
trafficking or growing.

Most people seem to agree that having only two options - laying a
criminal possession charge or doing nothing - doesn't work. That's
particularly true given the inconsistency of application between
jurisdictions, Boyd notes.

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has spent the past two
years lobbying for an alternative that would give cops the option of
writing tickets for small amounts of marijuana - less than 30 grams -
in the same way they issue a $230 ticket for an open bottle of liquor,
Ottawa has made supportive noises but has yet to make the change.

To Smith, president of the International Hempology 101 Society, that
sort of decriminalization feels like a money grab.

To him, Ottawa needs to legalize not just the possession but the
production and selling of marijuana (which currently carry a minimum
mandatory sentence).

To do otherwise creates a dream situation for organized crime: an
unregulated, untaxed industry where the consumers have no real fear of

But Boyd says if the public supports decriminalization but doesn't
want to see people puffing away in the streets, then ticketing toking
in the same manner as traffic offences has logic.

As it is, recent events make it feel like momentum is with the
smokers. Willie Nelson announced Monday that he will grow and market
his own brand of pot for sale in Washington and Colorado.

In Victoria, medical marijuana dispensaries are spreading like

Commercial grower Tilray is now the sixth largest employer in

The Times Colonist's Katie DeRosa takes a more in-depth look at some
of Vancouver Island's pot-preneurs in this coming weekend's edition of
Capital magazine.

But don't be fooled, police say. Marijuana isn't legal, not here, not

In the meantime, Statistics Canada reports declining marijuana use
among teens and young adults. In 2012, a quarter of 15- to
17-year-olds said they had smoked in the previous year, down from 40
per cent in 2002.

Overall, 15 per cent of British Columbians reported using marijuana in
the previous 12 months. It felt like most of them were in Centennial
Square on Monday.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt