Pot Fight ‘Difficult To Justify’

It costs B.C. taxpayers about $8,750 per conviction for simple pot possession, according to a study just released.

Not only that, there’s a huge gulf in philosophy between the way the Vancouver Police Department handles possession and the way the RCMP approaches the issue, according to the study by SFU criminology professor Neil Boyd.

Commissioned by Sensible B.C., a campaign to decriminalize cannabis in the province, the study says only about seven per cent of all police reports of marijuana possession result in convictions.

And those convictions aren’t at the expense of the drug gangs – 91 per cent are simple cases of possession, sometimes as little as a pipe-bowl full.

“The rate of marijuana use in B.C. is fairly close to that in other provinces,” Boyd said. “However, the rate of marijuana offences reported by the police in B.C. is far higher than that of any other province.

“RCMP have been laying more possession charges across Canada since 2005, with a 30-per cent increase since that time.

“But here in B.C., the increase has been the greatest of the provinces, with charges for marijuana possession more than doubling in six years.”

The outlier is Vancouver – in 2010, for instance, the VPD recommended only six charges in which marijuana possession was the only offence.

It’s a person’s behaviour and not the actual unlawful possession of a substance that is the primary factor in determining whether to lay a charge, according to the VPD’s website.

“That view of enforcement is in marked contrast to that expressed by the RCMP in British Columbia,” Boyd said. “VPD rarely charges individuals for possession of cannabis as a singular offence, but the RCMP, who are responsible for the overwhelming majority of charges in the province, believe a two-fold increase between 2005 and 2011 is appropriate.”

The report quotes an email from the RCMP’s drug enforcement branch, E Division, in which Boyd was told: “Despite the views of some, most Canadians do not want this drug around, as they recognize the dangers of it.”

The upshot is between 2005 and 2010 charges for possession fell in Vancouver to about 30 per 100,000 residents and increased just about everywhere else in the province – Richmond (79 per 100,000), North Vancouver (90), Nelson (300) and Tofino (588) are examples the study provided.

“The picture that emerges is one of enforcement without any consistency in purpose,” Boyd said. “There is no consistent logic applied in relation to the decision to detain and report, to confiscate, to charge or to convict.”

Studies show that almost one in five British Columbians use pot, Boyd said, while barely one in seven believes a criminal conviction for marijuana possession is sensible or logical.

A “reasonable and conservative” estimate of what the police and courts spend on convictions for pot possession is $10.5 million, he said.

“This cost is difficult to justify,” Boyd said, “as a mounting toll of criminal convictions continues to impose significant employment limitations and travel restrictions upon convicted users.”

Boyd’s study points out that Canada’s marijuana laws were first introduced in 1923, when little was known of the drug and without debate.

“The difficulty we face is our current sanctions are the product of history and culture, not the product of informed discussion and debate regarding relevant harms,” he said.

Sensible B.C. is campaigning for a referendum on the decriminalization of pot, to have it treated like alcohol and tobacco under a Sensible Policing Act.

“The RCMP in B.C. are on their own crusade, blowing ever-increasing amounts of taxpayers’ money on their failed war against pot smokers,” Dana Larsen, director of Sensible B.C., said. “Passing this law would save B.C. taxpayers at least $10.5 million a year and let the RCMP focus their resources on real crimes.”


16,578 police reports of pot possession in B.C. in 2011

3,774 charges laid

1,200 convictions

– Read the entire article at The Province.