HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Stop the Reefer Madness
Pubdate: Fri, 21 Jul 2000
Source: Halifax Daily News (CN NS)
Copyright: 2000 The Daily News.
Author: Stephen Kimber


Cops, Lawyers, Judges And Columnists Have All Smoked Up

Canada's police chiefs say it's past time for Ottawa to decriminalize the
simple possession of marijuana. A federal Senate committee came to the same
logical conclusion not that many years ago. Now, The Globe and Mail's
editorial board has weighed in on the issue, this week declaring itself
"increasingly convinced that we are wasting significant resources in
steering occasional dabblers and harmless potheads through the criminal
justice system."

And yet, we continue to charge people - more and more of them each year -
with drug-related offences. The majority of people who end up with
drug-related criminal records are young, and their "crime" is most often the
victimless non-crime of having a joint or two in their pocket or purse at
the wrong time and place.

Overall Crime Down

All of this was brought into sharp relief again earlier this week when
Statistics Canada released its latest annual national crime rate survey.

The 1999 figures showed what the 1998 numbers demonstrated, and the 1997
statistics indicated. As it has every year for the last eight, in fact,
Statistics Canada reported yet another decline in the number of Criminal
Code offences reported to police.

Last year, the overall decline was five per cent. The year before, it
dropped 4.1 per cent. Overall, the rate at which Canadians are committing
crimes is now at its lowest level - less than 8,000 per 100,000 people -
since 1980.  And yet, the number of drug charges continues to grow, bucking
that otherwise almost universal downward trend.

"Drug offences have increased 32 per cent since 1993," StatsCan notes,
"primarily due to increases in possession and cultivation of cannabis."

That's pretty much the same thing it said in a report four years ago: "The
rate of drug incidents increased slightly in 1995, largely due to a seven
per cent increase in cannabis incidents."

Another recent StatsCan study - this one focusing on the number of cases
heard in Canada's youth courts - came to similar conclusions. That annual
survey, released in May, showed that the overall number of youth crime cases
fell by 7.4 per cent between 1992-93 and 1998-99.

During the same period, however, the number of drug offences doubled.
"Police statistics," StatsCan notes dryly, "show that six in 10 youths
facing drug crimes in 1998 were charged with possession of cannabis."

What's going on here?

Why do we continue to make criminals out of young people for doing what
almost everyone older and wiser in the criminal justice system - police
officers, lawyers, judges, jailers, newspaper columnists, tough-on-crime
politicians - has done themselves at one point or another, and survived with
no ill effects.

Reasonable Cynicism

No ill effects, unless, of course, like those in the crime stats, they got
caught.  In which case they probably ended up with a criminal record.

They also likely wound up with a wholly reasonable cynicism about the
fairness of a justice system run by aging hypocrites who still send
undercover police officers into high schools to sucker kids into supplying
marijuana to cops who pretend to be their friends so they can then charge
them with trafficking in what they themselves used to do for fun. So that's
justice, eh?  Pity.
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