Canadian cops want decrim

On April 22, The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) announced that it had a new policy: relaxation of marijuana laws.
“This isn’t legalization. It’s decriminalization,” said Barry King, Police Chief in Brockville, Ontario and head of the CACP drug abuse committee. “The end result is no different. There is no war on drugs. What there is a balanced approach taken on all levels. It’s a health issue, a social issue, an education issue, an enforcement issue.”

Around the country, response to the CACP announcement was largely positive. RCMP assistant commissioner Rene Charbonneau told the press that, “This well-thought out policy statement stands to give direction to every police officer in Canada and will perhaps aid in bringing some ? more contentious topics to the forefront of discussion.”

The Reform Party reacted to the CACP announcement by suggesting concrete changes to the law. On April 27, Keith Martin, a medical doctor and Reform MP, tabled a bill to legalize not only possession, but also trafficking in marijuana.

“I would like to see our police officers pursuing rapists and organized crime barons, not people for simple possession,” said Martin.

The CACP reacted to Martin’s announcement by lobbying for a limit of 30 grams on legal possession, and for the right to be able to write a ticket and give a fine for those possessing under 30 grams. Essentially, the CACP still wants marijuana possession decriminalized, but still penalized.

Justice Minister Anne McLellan responded to Martin’s bill and the CACP announcements by saying she would consider changing the law, but only after she meets with the CACP in August.

Conservative backlash

Among the Canadian police community, small pockets of conservative resistance reacted strongly against pro-marijuana statements made by CACP representatives. Calgary Chief of Police Christine Silverberg claimed that the CACP policy was not decriminalization at all, but simply a motion to stop photographing and fingerprinting marijuana suspects. According to Silverberg, the motion would not be voted on until August, when the CACP is set to meet with McLellan.

Yet regardless of what the CACP originally endorsed, the perception that they were in favour of decriminalization led to Martin’s bill, and Martin’s bill led to the CACP endorsement of decriminalization.

The Toronto Police Association, a union representing officers in a city where police brutality and racism are rampant, recognized that if pot-prohibition were ended, pot-cop jobs were at stake. They followed Chief Silverberg’s act, citing tired political slogans like the “gateway myth,” which inaccurately slanders marijuana as leading to other drugs.

The CACP announcement also stirred up provincial politicians. In Ontario, Premier Mike Harris denounced decriminalization even while leaders of two other provincial parties supported it. According to Harris, he is happier killing his liver with alcohol. In contrast, Ontario NDP leader Howard Hampton and Opposition leader Dalton McGuinty both admitted to blasting health-giving nugs on more than one occasion.

In effect, the original CACP “decriminalization” statement had all the trappings of having been floated to the press as a tactic to gauge public reaction. If the reaction was good, the CACP could go with decriminalization. If bad, they’d drop the whole idea. With any luck, the CACP will not change its position in August when it meets with Justice Minister Anne McLellan.

Police support of decriminalization is a marked improvement over the kind of marijuanaphobic hate-literature still distributed by RCMP today. The CACP should be applauded and supported for any movement toward a decriminalization policy. Meanwhile, the cannabis community should continue to pressure other government organizations and departments for full legalization.

? Canadian Associations of Chiefs of Police: 1710?130 Albert St, Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5G4; tel (613) 233-1106; email [email protected]
? MP Keith Martin: House of Commons, Confederation Building, Rm 676, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A6; 996-2625; fx 996-9779; email [email protected]