Ottawa police Chief Vern White says he isn’t interested in giving marijuana users criminal records, and would support discussing decriminalization — with one caveat.
“My only concern about the word ‘decriminalizing’ is the suggestion to the public that (marijuana) is not a dangerous drug,” he said.
The Citizen asked White about decriminalization following a recent community meeting.
An Angus Reid poll
released earlier this month shows a majority of Canadians remain in favour of legalizing the plant. And last Tuesday, hundreds flocked to
Parliament Hill to smoke up in an annual ritual in support of decriminalization.
“If this is about, ‘we don’t want people to have a criminal record for possession of marijuana,’ that message is a good message,” White said. “Because I don’t want them to have a criminal record for possession of marijuana either.”
But the police chief said that the levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the active ingredient in marijuana — has increased several-fold since the 1970s.
He also pointed to studies that link consumption of marijuana to the onset ofpsychoses. A 2007 review of 35 studies found users were 41 per cent more likely to experience delusions, hallucinations or schizophrenia, though the researchers noted that the lifetime risk of contracting a chronic psychotic disorder had a probability of less than three per cent.
“So don’t say it doesn’t hurt,” White said. “It’s like saying alcohol doesn’t have a negative impact. Of course it does. But let’s focus on do we want them to have a criminal record for simple possession? If that’s the focus, I’m all for that discussion. But if it’s around, ‘it’s not hurting people,’ … I don’t agree with that.”
White said he believes police forces across the country would not oppose decriminalization.
“There’s not a police chief in the country, I think, that sits there salivating over the fact that people with simple possession charges have criminal records,” White said. “I’ll tell you the truth — most guys don’t get charged with marijuana anyway. Most people who have marijuana end up with it heeled into the ground, or with a verbal warning.”
Statistics Canada figures for 2008 show that, of more than 50,100 incidents in which police encountered a cannabis possessor, police laid possession charges less than half of the time.
But in Ontario, 15,787 incidents led to 10,204 people charged. Those under the age of 18 made up less than 20 per cent of people charged.
White said he’s “good” with the 30-gram personal amount that the federal Liberals suggested when they toyed with decriminalization, though they ultimately proposed to decriminalize a reduced amount of 15 grams.
The bill died shortly before the 2006 federal election that saw Stephen Harper’s Conservatives take power. The Harper government has said it does not support decriminalization.
White said anyone carrying 30 grams in pre-rolled joints or ‘dime’ bags would likely face trafficking charges.
A ‘dime’ of marijuana weighs about 0.7 grams and sells for $10, though some dealers will sell whole grams for that price.
A full 30 grams bought in bulk might be had for $200 to $250, but at that weight it would more likely be sold as an ounce — slightly more than 28 grams.
“My support will be in having a frank discussion about whether or not we want people to have criminal records for possession of marijuana,” White said.
– Article from The Ottawa Citizen.