Pubdate: Tue, 13 Jun 2017
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Toronto Star
Author: Betsy Powell
Page: GT6


Endorses an end to simple possession charges as 2018 legalization

Toronto's Board of Health is calling on the federal government to
decriminalize pot possession immediately as part has of a package of
recommendations it adopted unanimously on the looming legalization of

The "fact it is still criminal is criminal," board member and
Councillor Paula Fletcher said during Monday's Board of Health meeting.

Fletcher noted illegal dispensaries continue to operate, while "some
of my residents are being charged with possession and trafficking for
hand-to-hand sales of marijuana. It does not seem fair at all."

Recreational marijuana is set to become legal in Canada in July

Board members praised Toronto's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen
de Villa for providing a roadmap to the city, designed to "protect
health and minimize harms of use" associated with pot.

The board backed her recommendations to ask the province to set the
minimum age of purchase at 19 to align with the minimum age for legal
purchase of alcohol in Ontario. Ottawa has set 18 as a minimum age for
buying pot, but has given the provinces and territories the authority
to increase the age but not lower it.

The board also wants the province to establish a provincially
controlled agency for the retail sale and distribution of recreational
pot, separate from the LCBO, and establish a social responsibility

Under the proposed legislation, the federal government will be
responsible for the production of cannabis. The provincial and
territorial governments are responsible for developing, implementing,
maintaining and enforcing systems to oversee its distribution and sale.

The recommendations recognize that "we're not putting it (pot) in the
paradigm of fruits and vegetables. This is not about broccoli and
carrots," said board chair and Councillor Joe Mihevc. "This is a
product that has a lot of health risks associated with it, and, so, as
a society, we want to put controls on how it happens, where it
happens, cost, who distributes, and so on, and so forth."

Mihevc favours legalization because it takes "a major piece" of
marijuana out of the criminal justice system. "It doesn't belong
there, because all we're doing is getting a whole bunch of young kids
arrested. We're having an underground economy. We're having the
courts, and prisons and police and all that work, and it's not really
producing the social good that we think it should produce."

The medical officer of health's report says that, based on current
rates, there will be 59,000 charges and 22,000 convictions for simple
possession before cannabis is legalized.

Also Monday, a police watchdog group criticized the Toronto Police
Services Board for refusing to debate pot at its meeting last month.

The Toronto Police Accountability Coalition wrote to the board
suggesting the "simple remedy" during this period of limbo is for
police to exercise discretion when deciding whether to arrest someone
for possessing less than 30 grams of pot.

The group wrote that this is an important public issue the board
"should be taking a leadership position on, instead of refusing to
even to discuss it."

TPAC estimates about 5,000 people are charged with possession of
marijuana a year in Toronto.

"We continue to enforce the law as it stands," TPS spokesperson
Meaghan Gray wrote in an email.
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