Pubdate: Thu, 03 Dec 2015
Source: Georgia Straight, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2015 The Georgia Straight
Author: Travis Lupick


Late one evening last February, Sarah Bowman was on her way home when 
she was approached by two RCMP officers at the Edmonds SkyTrain 
Station in Burnaby.

She had just smoked a joint, Bowman recounted in a telephone 
interview, but she didn't think she was in real trouble. Bowman 
explained that she had a doctor's prescription for the drug and had 
obtained it with that document at a medicinal-marijuana dispensary in 

"I saw police officers making the rounds, so I threw my joint away," 
she said. "They walked straight up to me, a gentleman showed me his 
badge, grabbed my hands, and handcuffed me without me even responding."

Bowman sat on the ground as officers searched her bags. They didn't 
find any marijuana and eventually located both Bowman's prescription 
for cannabis and her dispensary membership card. But the RCMP 
officers dismissed those documents as irrelevant.

They argued that under existing laws, medicinal marijuana must be 
obtained via mail order from a certified Health Canada supplier. That 
is accurate (with exceptions) and remains true today.

On November 13, Liberal prime minister Justin Trudeau issued a 
mandate letter that stated the Ministry of Justice should "create a 
federal-provincial-territorial process that will lead to the 
legalization and regulation of marijuana". But Justice Minister Jody 
Wilson-Raybould (MP for Vancouver Granville) has yet to act on that directive.

Both the Justice Ministry and the RCMP refused to grant interviews. 
Cpl. Janelle Shoihet, a spokesperson for the B.C. RCMP, did however 
confirm officers are still enforcing cannabis laws including those 
that prohibit possession.

Dana Larsen is vice president of the Canadian Association of Medical 
Cannabis Dispensaries. He told the Straight that although the country 
remains in a period of transition on marijuana, municipal 
jurisdictions are policing cannabis as they see fit. Larsen suggested 
that situation has turned an urban region like Metro Vancouver into 
an unpredictable patchwork where some jurisdictions zealously enforce 
drug laws while others turn a blind eye to petty crimes like possession.

"In B.C., it totally depends on the mayor and the mayor and city 
council," he said.

Bowman was travelling from Vancouver to New Westminster but stopped 
in Burnaby to visit her boyfriend. The Vancouver Police Department 
has long maintained it does not consider marijuana possession an 
enforcement priority. Meanwhile, in 2014, the New Westminster Police 
Department recorded a seven-year low for drug offences (going as far 
back as data is publicly available). But Burnaby is policed by the RCMP.

"They left me shaking uncontrollably and terrified," said Bowman, who 
was eventually released without charges. "I used to think that police 
officers were there to help. Now, I'm paranoid. I'm afraid of police."

Murray Rankin, opposition critic for justice and NDP MP for Victoria, 
told the Straight that stories such as Bowman's should serve as a 
warning. He said cities like Vancouver and New Westminster may not 
consider it a priority to go after someone with a joint but anecdotal 
evidence suggests the situation is different in jurisdictions covered 
by the RCMP.

"It's quite a varied landscape out there," he said. "We want a 
coherent position across the country."

Rankin added that the situation on Vancouver Island is similar to 
that of Metro Vancouver. The City of Victoria (which has its own 
municipal police force) has tacitly accepted marijuana storefronts 
and is drafting regulations comparable to those Vancouver adopted 
last June. Meanwhile, Rankin continued, in Nanaimo (where the RCMP 
patrols the streets), marijuana is still getting people into trouble 
with law enforcement.

Barely an hour after Rankin's call with the Straight, the RCMP issued 
a news release stating they had executed search warrants at three 
marijuana dispensaries in Nanaimo.

Rankin acknowledged that legalizing marijuana-that is, creating a 
framework for sales similar to rules that cover tobacco-will be 
complicated and take time. But he argued it would not be hard for the 
federal government to decriminalize possession of small amounts of 
cannabis. Rankin noted the Liberals have discussed this as a likely 
first step, and he wondered when that will happen.

As few as seven percent of B.C. marijuana violations result in 
charges, according to a 2011 analysis published by the University of 
the Fraser Valley. But according to B.C. Justice Ministry numbers, 
from 2003 to 2012, police across the province recorded 173,157 
offences related to cannabis.

Larsen emphasized that even without a charge, an apprehension such as 
the encounter with RCMP Bowman experienced is usually entered into a 
police database, where it can remain for years and create problems 
for someone when the apply for a job or travel to the United States.

Like Rankin, Larsen said he accepts that full legalization will 
likely be a long process. "But there is no reason to continue 
arresting people for possession," he said. "Especially when those 
charges are likely going to be dropped in a few months anyways. 
What's the point?"
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom