Pubdate: Sat, 15 Oct 2016
Source: Kingston Whig-Standard (CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 Sun Media
Author: Steph Crosier
Page: 7


If you were in possession of marijuana and didn't want to face
criminal charges in 2015, statistics show Kingston was the place to be
in Canada.

Postmedia Network analyzed 1,132 municipalities going back to 2005,
looking at marijuana-related incidents and charges. In Kingston, while
there were 15.63 incidents of marijuana possession per 100,000 people
in 2015, there were only 13.55 resulting charges.

The years with the most incidents were 2007 -- 76.61 per 100,000
people resulting in 44.95 charges -- and 2008 -- 73.45 per 100,000
people resulting in 52.38 charges.

In 2014, 25.4 incidents involving marijuana resulted in 20.46 charges
per 100,000 people.

Cannabis trafficking, importation and exportation, as well as
production followed the same trend.

Sgt. Patrick Benoit of Kingston Police's drug unit told the
Whig-Standard that, from his perspective, the lower incidents and
charges are a result of a "massive" decrease in information from the

"The flow of information coming in was more relating to hard drugs
than marijuana," Benoit said. "We've seen an influx in methamphetamine
and cocaine this year; last year there was a big influx in meth
compared to previous years. So it is the supply and demand coming into
our city that is going to dictate where we go in the drug unit."

Benoit was not surprised to hear that 2015 was so tame, but despite
what the numbers show, Kingston Police have seized $90,000 in
marijuana and cannabis plants so far in 2016, he said. That is nothing
compared to the almost $500,000 in methamphetamine and close to
$400,000 in cocaine, to prove Benoit's point.

"If it is the marijuana business, we're going to target major
dealers," Benoit said, but police can't do that without

The lower numbers may also have to do with the court system. Benoit
said he's been in the game long enough to know that those dealing
harder drugs will get tougher sentences than those dealing marijuana.

"It is something that we will take into consideration, considering the
amount of time it takes for us to investigate certain individuals,"
Benoit said. "If we're going to put in 'X' amount of time into an
individual that is dealing hard drugs to do hard time, then we're not
going to let that go to investigate and give the same amount of time
into someone dealing weed that would maybe get a fine or maybe probation."

Benoit said patrol officers on Kingston's roads likely see marijuana
more often in smaller quantities than the drug unit. In many cases,
officers must put in a report, but they use discretion when pressing
charges. Benoit explained that if an individual is caught with a small
amount of marijuana but no criminal record, the marijuana may just be

This is similar to the Vancouver Police Department's policy that,
"while some police officers locally or nationally may disagree," it
will ignore someone carrying a small amount of drugs, unless that
person is being unruly.

"But maybe a different individual has the same amount of marijuana but
he has a record, and has maybe one or two more different types of
drugs on him. He'll be charged with having the marijuana and the other
two drugs," Benoit said.

Discretion is often used when dealing with youth as per the Youth
Criminal Justice Act, Const. Steve Koopman said. When a youth has no
criminal past, and criminal charges can be avoided, the youth is
referred to the youth programs officer, Const. Josh Conner. He reviews
the case, examines the teen's history, home and school life, and
conducts a formal sit-down interview with the youth. If an addictions
program at Youth Diversion is appropriate, they'll be referred.

Shawn Quigley, executive director of Youth Diversion, said youth are
referred by schools and police to their addictions programming for
marijuana at least once a week. He said sometimes it is as informal as
an officer calling Youth Diversion asking them to make contact with a
specific youth. Sometimes it is the more formal process from Conner.

"We tend to get more drug-related matters from the police than we do
from the court system," Quigley said. "These are low-risk youth, and
we're not talking about a very large amount of marijuana, we're not
crystal meth, cocaine, heroin. I would say more often than not, the
young people would come through us from the police as opposed to being
charged and going through the court system and coming to us that way."

Quigley credits the creation of Conner's position as the youth
programs officer in the spring of 2015 and the police's focus on youth
for the low arrests and marijuana-related charges.

"When the police decided to start engaging youth and having youth
engaged with them, they made some fantastic changes," Quigley said.
"It is one of those things where you start putting a lot of focus on
an issue, your numbers are going to decrease."

Benoit said Kingston Police haven't adapted early to the impending
legalization of marijuana, society has.

"I think society is shifting a little bit, because I see a shift in
the information coming in," Benoit said. "I worked in the drug unit as
a constable back in maybe 2003 to 2005, and marijuana was just part of
the information coming in. "| I find now the information is now
minimal compared to the information coming in for the harder drugs."

David Williams, director of addiction services and community
engagement at the Addiction and Mental Health Services of Kingston,
Frontenac, Lennox and Addington, says marijuana is the most abused
illicit drug by clients that they have.

"While crystal meth, heroin, fentanyl, cocaine get all the press,
alcohol and marijuana are still the most used and abused drugs that we
have by far," Williams said. "One of the concerns that we have is the
use associated with young people versus our older clients. The rates
of youth [under 24] reporting cannabis use is significantly higher
than it would be for older people."

Addiction and Mental Health Services is anticipating legalization,
knowing that regulations and restrictions will be crucial, Williams

"Some jurisdictions that have introduced it previously and did not
have regulations are now having to back up and now introduce
particular restrictions they didn't have initially because of issues
that have come to play," Williams said. "It's a bit of a balancing
act, but they're going to introduce the act, it will be discussed and
debated, and then we'll have to wait and see the outcomes."

He doesn't have any predictions, but Benoit said with new regulations,
police will adapt their enforcement.

"If marijuana is legalized, it will be legalized for a certain amount,
so we'll still go after the dealers dealing illegally whether it is
weed, cocaine or meth. In that regard, nothing changes," Benoit said.
"It will change for patrol officers coming across marijuana. "| I
think we'll just adapt. That is what we do."

Once marijuana is legalized, Quigley believes there will be an
increase in use amongst youth. To support this, the proper social
systems need to be in place, much like with alcohol.

"You ask any young person, they'll tell you it's so much easier to get
marijuana than it is to get alcohol," Quigley said. "I think it's also
important to really educate youth around the impact it does have on
the developing adolescent brain. As an organization that operates an
addictions program, it's incumbent upon us to make sure we're prepared
for this and that we are supporting youth one way or another."
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