Recent pot-use admissions by politicians open nation-wide discussion on legal status of marijuana
© AMANDA JESS – THE NEWS
Justin Trudeau has re-ignited the debate over legalizing marijuana. Speaking in Antigonish on Thursday, he said there are many reasons to talk about it including the cost to taxpayers for the government to prosecute offenders.
PICTOU COUNTY – Are you a politician? Looking to make waves in the public and the media? Time to get out of a haze and join in on the latest rage sweeping the nation for Canadian lawmakers: admitting you’ve smoked pot.
Federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, in a ‘put that in your pipe and smoke it’ moment, came out in support of decriminalization and legalization of marijuana in Canada over a month ago.
A little over a week ago, Trudeau admitted to toking up at a dinner party and as a member of parliament.
Since then, numerous politicians have been quizzed on their history and their stance on the decriminalization of marijuana. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, when asked about whether he has smoked pot, wryly responded, “Do I seem like I smoke marijuana?”
In Nova Scotia, Premier Darrell Dexter and PC leader Jamie Baillie admitted to trying it out, though Baillie told News95.7 it was ‘disappointing’. While Liberal leader Stephen MacNeil said he’s has never tried it, he is in support of the decriminalization of marijuana.
“It just doesn’t make sense to give someone a criminal record with a small amount of marijuana,” MacNeil told The News. “Obviously trafficking and grow ops are a different story.”
He added that if the federal government did decriminalize or legalize marijuana, it would have to be accompanied with a rigorous educational campaign, especially for youth.
LAYING DOWN THE LAW
But what exactly does the law dictate on marijuana use and possession?
Bronwyn Duffy has been practicing law in Pictou County with MacIssac Clarke & Duffy for the past five years. She’s also represented the Crown and prosecuted numerous drug related cases in the county as an agent with the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.
“This part of Canadian law is dealt with in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act,” said Duffy. “Unless you have authorization under the regulations to possess marijuana, having it in your possession contravenes the CDSA.”
For Pictou County, the most common cases she deals with pertain to sections 4, 7, 5.1 and 5.2. They include laws against and proscribed punishment for marijuana and other drug possession, production, trafficking and possession for the purpose of trafficking.
“For the county in the courtroom regarding drugs, I most often see marijuana and cocaine,” Duffy said. “It’s a wide spectrum almost equally of males, females, young and old.”
What’s on paper and what happens in the real world is a little more nuanced however.
“The discretion to charge is the purview of the police,” said Duffy. “I don’t see the charge until it arrives on my desk. There’s a lot of separation between the investigators and prosecutors in the Canadian justice system.”
From there however, she has a great deal of discretion particularly in cases of simple possession – less than 30 grams of marijuana.
Duffy notes that some may be under the impression that Bill C-10, the large omnibus crime bill passed by parliament last year, had implications for a prosecutors discretion in simple possession.
“Simple possession wasn’t affected,” she said. “There are still many factors that affect our recommendations for sentencing such as a criminal record.”
When asked whether or not the current laws should be changed regarding marijuana, Duffy noted it’s not her place to offer opinion but rather, carry out the current laws.
TIME FOR COMPROMISE
Those on the front lines of law enforcement believe that there has to be a better outcome than a potential criminal record for possessing a few grams of pot.
On Aug. 20, the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs recommended an expansion of enforcement options to more effectively and efficiently address the illicit possession of cannabis, including ticketing for simple possession.
“The current process of sending all simple possession of cannabis cases under the Controlled Drug and Substances Act to criminal court is placing a significant burden on the entire justice system from an economic and resource utilization perspective,” stated CACP President Chief Constable Jim Chu.
New Glasgow Regional Police Deputy Chief Eric MacNeil, a member of the association, said if he had been present for the vote, he would have supported ticketing as well.
“It’s an issue all over the county,” said MacNeil. “Our street crime unit is more interested in gathering intelligence on the producers and traffickers.”
He noted that it’s a burden on the police and the courts to proceed with a case for simple possession.
“What then? You have someone who is not a criminal with a criminal record,” said MacNeil. “This makes it difficult for that individual to travel internationally and even get a job.”
Don Hussher, chief of the Stellarton and Westville police departments agreed.
“Ticketing is the way society is headed,” said Hussher. “It’s so prevalent now, you need a less complex way of dealing with marijuana.”
He admits that with a ticketing system for simple possession, there would undoubtedly be those accused going before the court to plead not guilty.
"I think the vast majority would accept the ticket and the responsibility.”
WHERE THERE’S SMOKE THERE’S FIRE
Greg Purvis, director of Addiction Services for the Pictou County Health Authority and Cumberland Health Authority provided the following in an email to The News regarding legalization from an addiction treatment and policy perspective.
“Research indicates that increasing accessibility leads to increased use and increased use potentially leads to increased harms,” wrote Purvis. “There is a potential that legalization would increase access.”
He also notes that legalization may also assist in normalizing cannabis use, which may increase use.
“Research is suggesting cannabis use has a more permanent harmful effect on developing brains,” he wrote. “Adolescents and young adults are already the most frequent user group.”
He believes that reduced criminal sanctions like those recommended recently by the Canadian Chiefs of Police, where officers could administer tickets/fines to users (not criminalizing the user unless they are committing a crime like driving under the influence) but retain the more severe legal consequences for suppliers, appears to be a well balanced approach that allows law enforcement the flexibility to apply the appropriate measures necessary to reduce the demand for the drug and criminal activities associated with it while not criminalizing the user.
On Twitter: @NGNewsJohn