Users off the hook
by Greg Middleton
from The Vancouver Sun newspaper, June 19, 1995
Simple drug possession in Vancouver will no longer be prosecuted,
under new federal government guidelines, The Province has learned.
Senior federal drug prosecutor Lindsay Smith wrote to Vancouver police
on May 17 advising them of the relaxed stance.
The letter said the Crown would only approve possession charges if
there was an aggravating factor, such as if the person was “a known
“We were simply indicating the system is badly overtaxed and we have
more drug cases than we can deal with”, explained Tony Dohm, of the justice
Dohm is in charge of federal prosecutions in B.C. All drug charges are
handled by federally appointed prosecutors. He said the edict applies to Vancouver, where drug prosecutions have
overloaded the courts.
“We have to look at the effect on the community“, he
said. “It may be different if someone is caught outside a school in
West Vancouver or North Vancouver with drugs.”
Drugs, from marijuana to cocaine and heroin, are part of the culture
of the downtown area, he said. Dohm defended the new position.
We’re not giving people carte blanche. It’s not a licence to do drugs
and we’re not telling police to turn a blind eye.
While no one knows how many illicit drug users there are in Vancouver,
one downtown needle exchange will give away at least 1.5 million
needles this year.
Two provincial courtrooms run almost full-time in downtown Vancouver
exclusively for drug cases, and there can be several dozen new drug-possession
cases a day.
Vancouver police deputy chief Rich Rollins agrees with Dohm: “We have to
be practical; that is the bottom line“, Rollins said. He confirmed the
latter had come after a number of meetings with federal justice department
officials and drug prosecutors.
Members of the drug squad had complained about the number of recent
drug cases being dropped or refused by federal prosecutors.
“It was discussed at an executive meeting of the police department”,
Mayor Philip Owen, chairman of the Vancouver police board, could not
be reached for comment last night, but Prof. Neil Boyd, head of Simon Fraser
University’s criminology department, said giving up on drug-possession
charges is “probably the right way to go.”
He advocated decriminalizing drug possession, saying drug use should
not be a criminal offence.
It doesn’t make sense to criminalize the chemical alteration of
consciousness with some drugs when we allow people to do it with
tobacco and alcohol
… Boyd said.
Looser drug rules get a mellow thumbs-up
by Lora Grindlay
from The Province newspaper, June 19, 1995
The people at Hemp B.C. answered phone calls yesterday by calling themselves
“the happiest store in the world.”
New federal guidelines calling for a relaxed stance on prosecuting drug
possession cases had Vancouver’s hempsters jumping for joy.
“Today we are the happiest store in the world“, said Hilary Black,
who has worked at the West Hastings Street outlet for four months.
The 19-year-old from West Vancouver figured it would take years of lobbying
before government would deliver such an edict. “It almost feels like a
fantasy and a dream“, said Black. “It’s a step towards using hemp for
paper and fibre and using the seed for fuel.”
Marc Emery, Hemp B.C.’s owner, was reeling from the news:
“It’s an electric situation. It’s posted on the Internet and people around
the country are very excited about it”, said the 37-year-old.
Emery said it frees thousands of Vancouver pot smokers “from the awful fear
of being arrested and having lives ruined for smoking a joint.”
The store owner, who sold about 5,000 marijuana growing guides last year,
said he hopes the new freedoms won’t be flaunted.
Senior federal drug prosecutor Lindsay Smith wrote to Vancouver police on
May 17 saying they would only approve possession charges if there was an
The ruling applied to Vancouver because of its overworked courts, but Mayor
Philip Owen, chairman of the Vancouver police board, was puzzled. “They
are saying there is a law but we are going to ignore it“, said Owen
yesterday. “You either legalize the drugs or enforce the law. I don’t
understand what the federal government has in mind.”
Owen said the new guidelines “encourage the thug drug dealers” while
the city and province are forced to deal with social problems caused by
B.C.’s chief coroner Vince Cain, who in February called the war on drugs an
expensive failure, said not approving every possession charge is a small
“It’s one aspect of a very, very large picture“, he said yesterday.
Owen blasts federal drug guidelines
by Derek McNaughton
from The Province newspaper, June 18, 1995
Vancouver Mayor Philip Owen blasted the federal government Sunday over
a report that says minor drug-possession charges in Vancouver will no
longer be prosecuted.
Owen, chair of the Vancouver police board, said the new guidelines –
intended to alleviate a backlog of drug cases in the courts – “make a
mockery of the judicial system” and send a “frightening” message to
“If they don’t like the way things are functioning, then change the
law, but don’t tell us we have a law that we’re going to ignore”, said
Owen. “If we don’t have any respect for the law, we’re saying, ‘Here
you go, we’re just going to look the other way.’ That’s just fundamentally
and basically wrong.”
Owen described drugs as one of Vancouver’s biggest problems,
particularly on the Downtown Eastside. He said relaxing the
prohibition on drugs will lead to social decay.
“The winner is the drug-dealing punk who makes off with all this
tax-free money and leaves us with the social chaos and destruction in
his wake. I have great difficulty with that“, the mayor said.
He said he will raise the matter with Vancouver Police Chief Ray
Canuel and John Blatherwick, the city’s chief medical health
Owen was reacting to a weekend report that said federal Crown
prosecutors will only act on possession charges in cases where the
suspect is “a known gang member”, or is arrested near a schoolyard.
The guidelines were written after federal justice officials met with
Crown prosecutors, who handle all drug cases.
Members of the Vancouver police drug squad had complained about the
number of drug cases being dropped or refused by federal
Tony Dohm, head of federal prosecutions in B.C., defended the
guidelines. He said the justice department was responding to an
overtaxed court system – not telling police to look the other way.