Pubdate: Tue, 25 Jul 2017
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network
Author: Meghan Potkins
Page: A1


Police are laying fewer charges for possession of marijuana in a trend
that accelerated in Alberta last year, particularly in Calgary.

Alberta saw a 25 per cent drop in the rate of criminal marijuana
possession in 2016 from the previous year, led in part by significant
declines in Calgary for the fifth consecutive year.

The downward trend began before the Liberals brought forward their
plan to legalize the drug for recreational use, and those on the front
lines of the judicial system say charges for simple possession are
increasingly rare.

"It has been quite a while since I've had anybody retain me for a
simple possession of marijuana charge," said defence lawyer Dale
Fedorchuk. "Police are only laying charges if there is a significant
amount of marijuana, and, more likely, only if it is possession for
the purpose of trafficking."

The annual tally of police-reported crime from Statistics Canada
released Monday suggested there were about 4,405 actual offences
related to simple marijuana possession in Alberta in 2016, about 1,349
fewer than the year before. Calgary saw a 20 per cent decrease in the
rate of cannabis possession offences in 2016 over the previous year.

The city has seen the number of actual pot possession incidents
reported by police decline by more than half since 2012.

There has been a decrease in police willingness and interest in
pursuing charges for simple possession since 2010, said Doug King, a
criminologist at Mount Royal University. "A police officer has a
tremendous amount of discretion as to what charge to pursue when they
encounter suspected criminal activity," said King.

"I think this is one of those things where police officers are saying
to themselves 'this isn't really a priority of ours.'"

He said changing social attitudes and backlogged court systems may be
a factor and that Crown prosecutors, probably indirectly or
informally, are sending messages to police officers across Canada
saying not to charge because of the upcoming legalization.

If an officer charges someone with possession, it might not go to
court until after the law changes.

"I think that the police are now taking a look at that and saying,
'well, it's going to be legal soon anyway. If we charge somebody today
and their trial is 18 months from now, by the time it gets to trial it
may be legal, so why bother?'" Fedorchuk said.

- - With files from The Canadian Press
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt