New data from Statistics Canada reveal that last year almost 59,000 Canadians found themselves in trouble with the law for the simple possession of marijuana.
That marks a 28-percent increase in the rate (per 100,000) at which Canadians were charged with possession compared to 2003.
Over the same 10-year period, the rate of offences for the trafficking, distribution, and production of cannabis was down 35 percent. There were just over 14,300 such offences in 2013.
In a telephone interview, Mark Mander, drug abuse committee chair of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP), was quick to note that a number of factors could account for those shifts. For example, he said, people facing serious charges could be making plea bargains on lesser offences.
Regardless, Mander continued, the statistics indicate that marijuana is consuming a lot of police officers’ time.
In August 2013, Mander took the lead on a CACP campaign advocating for a “ticketing option” for marijuana possession. He argues that this would allow police to issue penalties for people caught with small amounts of marijuana without involving Crown prosecutors, lab technicians, judges, and other officials required to process a criminal case.
“If you look at the number of people going through the system, it [ticketing] would free up officers’ time and it would free up the time of the courts,” he told the Straight.
The Ministry of Justice referred questions on marijuana enforcement to the RCMP, which did not respond to a request for an interview.
Dana Larsen, a campaign coordinator for Sensible B.C., argued that a simple possession charge has become a more serious punishment than it once was.
“Even just being charged and not being convicted can cause you problems,” he said. “There are plenty of examples of people who were never convicted but who were simply charged and then blocked from entering the U.S....The process of going through that can be very challenging, time-consuming, and humiliating for people.”
Drug offences (encompassing everything from possession to trafficking and marijuana to heroin) is the only broad category of crime for which Statistics Canada reports the rate of offences increased between 2003 and 2013. Violent crime was down 24 percent, property crime was down 41 percent, “other Criminal Code offences” was down eight percent, and “other federal statute violations” was down 30 percent. Meanwhile, the rate of drug offences was up 13 percent.