Even if one never spends a minute in jail, a charge for possessing cannabis can haunt a Canadian citizen for life. It can turn up in job interviews and at the border with the United States. Given the plant is relatively harmless to adults, a charge is a hugely disproportionate penalty for possessing a drug that Canada is in the process of fully legalizing. And so it's good news that authorities across the country are charging fewer Canadians with possession.
According to new data published by Statistics Canada, 2017 was the sixth year in a row to see a decline in the number of people charged with holding cannabis.
Last year, 13,768 people were charged with marijuana possession. That's down from 17,720 in 2016, from 21,320 the year before that, and from 24,535 posession charges in 2014.
A CBC News article on the data describes 13,768 charges as the fewest recorded in 20 years.
As previously reported by the Straight, the Vancouver Police Department has let it be known it no longer considers cannabis a "policing priority" for several years now.
“We ask, is a recommendation of criminal charges proportionate to the offence that is being committed?” Const. Brian Montague told the Straight in 2015. “And a lot of times, the answer to that is no.”
The VPD has said it instead focuses on dealers selling hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin. More recently, the force has stated it is concentrating police resources on fentanyl, a dangerous synthetic opioid associated with more than 80 percent of fatal overdoses across B.C. last year.
Legislation to legalize recreational cannabis passed in the House of Commons last June. The country is scheduled to officially legalize cannabis on October 17, 2018.