Cannabis offences drop by 25 percent in light of fentanyl epidemic and plans for legalization, VPD says

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      While cannabis-related police incidents continue to make the news in other parts of the country (ahem, Toronto), the Vancouver Police Department has ignored Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's call to continue arrests for possession despite plans for legalization.

      Instead, the VPD has said it's prioritized the city's overdose crisis.

      Released last week, the department's annual report for 2016 reveals a significant drop in cannabis-related offences, from 861 in 2015 to 660 in 2016.

      That's a decline of 24.1 percent.

      To put these numbers in perspective, the total number of cannabis-related offences in British Columbia in 2015 was 13,420. Across the country, it was 96,000.

      The drop seems fitting given the federal government's plans to legalize, and the City of Vancouver's regulations that allow dispensaries to apply for business licenses.

      VPD spokesperson Staff Sgt. Randy Fincham told the Straight that one of the reasons cannabis-related offences occurred less frequently in 2016 was because police were focusing their efforts on the city's overdose crisis, as per the department's priority-based approach to crime.

      "There's only a finite number of resources available to us, and we're choosing on focusing those on the fentanyl epidemic," he said over the phone.

      "But we are also looking at a shift in society in the acceptance of the use of marijuana."

      Fincham added that upcoming changes to federal legislation have prompted the department to take a serious step back from policing cannabis.

      "We are not arresting on the street for small possession offences, and we haven't done that for quite some time," he said.

      Fincham added that in the event that a cannabis-related offence is recorded, it is often in relation to another outstanding offence. 

      When it comes to dispensaries, Fincham called Vancouver's licensing program "unique", and said that the VPD is unlikely to take action against a marijuana store unless it receives a complaint from the public about a particular shop.

      (With the exception of the Cannabis Culture headquarters on West Hastings Street, which was raided at the behest of the Toronto Police Service in March as part of the cross-country Project Gator, the VPD has not raided a Vancouver dispensary since August 2015.)

      Fincham stressed that only a small portion of the 660 offences recorded in 2016 would have resulted in arrests, or even a request for charges.

      If an offence like possession is recorded, the most an officer might do is seize the marijuana in question.

      For the most part, though, even that doesn't occur very often.

      While offences for cocaine and "other drugs" also fell—by 14.8 percent and 8 percent, respectively—the number of heroin-related offences rose by 2.2 percent.