news

We Shouldn’t Tolerate Another Year of Pot Arrests

We Shouldn’t Tolerate Another Year of Pot Arrests
 

By Rob Breakenridge, Global News July 16, 2017

Last Saturday marked not only the country’s 150th birthday but also the final one-year countdown to the official legalization of marijuana.

Interestingly, while Canada must wait until July 1st of next year, July 1st of 2017 saw the first legal sales of marijuana in the state of Nevada. And while July 1st, 2018 will represent almost three years since the election of the Trudeau Liberals, the state of Nevada voted to legalize marijuana only eight months ago.

That would appear to demonstrate that this entire process need not take as long as it has, and in the meantime there are real consequences of the odd legal grey zone we’ve created in the meantime. And for as much as the Liberals have taken their time on this, there are others who believe that the pace is still too quick, that we still have much to sort out before July of next year.

READ MORE: Canna Clinic marijuana dispensary raided twice in 1 week, 8 more employees charged: Toronto police

Of course, even if we legalized “too fast,” the worst case scenario would appear to be some months of regulatory uncertainty (oh, the horror!), whereas the situation we’re now in means thousands of people are being charged for something the government no longer believes is a crime.

How many more thousands of Canadians will be charged with pot possession over the next twelve months while nervous and fretful politicians fret about zoning regulations? Especially when one considers the tremendous strain our court system, these seems like an untenable situation.

Numbers released in early June show that since the Liberals election win in October of 2015, more than 15,000 Canadians have been charged with pot possession — including over 7,000 under the age of 25 — and of those, more that 2,000 have been convicted.

Just this past week we learned that most of the 90 or so individuals charged in a massive raid on Toronto marijuana dispensaries in May will not end up going to trial. 45 cases have been withdrawn or stayed, while another 27 were resolved through the use of peace bonds. While the burden on the court system is lessened, it raises questions about what the point of the raids was in the first place.

In the midst of an opioid crisis, it seems foolish and counterproductive to have police forces prioritizing marijuana investigations and arrests. Three months ago, for example, police in Hanna, Alta. executed a search warrant on a home and arrested a woman for possessing one marijuana plant. Yes, one. They even put out a press release to inform us all of this fact. What on earth is the point of this?

That very same month, Prime Minister Trudeau was hinting that his government may consider pardons for those with marijuana convictions, but only after legalization comes into force. At this point, though, there are no guarantees. But it makes all of this police work seem all the more absurd if these convictions we’re securing now (at great cost) are simply going to be tossed aside in a year.

In fairness to Trudeau, he did not criminalize marijuana in the first place, and has taken the bold and commendable step to end prohibition. Furthermore, his government is under pressure from provinces, municipalities, and police forces to go slow.

That said, Trudeau could have introduced an amnesty for marijuana possession. He did not. He could have have brought in decriminalization in the interim, but didn’t. Just last year the Liberals actually voted against an NDP bill to decriminalize pot possession. Issuing tickets seems a lot more sensible than laying criminal charges.

The fact is the Liberals could have taken steps to prevent these thousands of arrests and chose not to. It’s not too late to do the right thing, however.