Statistics Canada says pot offences down again in 2016
About 55,000 cases related to marijuana reported to police last year
OTTAWA — The number of policereported cannabis offences declined for the fifth straight year, Statistics Canada said Monday, a downward trend that began long before the Liberals brought forward their plan to legalize the drug for recreational use.
The tally of police-reported crime from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics said there were about 55,000 offences related to marijuana reported to police in 2016, about 6,000 fewer than reported in ’15 — despite previous data showing consumption of the drug on the rise.
The Liberal government has introduced legislation to legalize marijuana — a goal it intends to achieve by next summer — but has decided against decriminalizing simple possession in the interim, which the NDP has been urging them to do.
Statistics Canada said police charged 17,733 people with possession of pot last year.
That is a drop of about 3,600 from 2015, but still accounts for 76 per cent of all cannabis-related charges.
“We’ve still got a significant number of people being charged for simple possession of cannabis in this country,” said Eugene Oscapella, a lawyer who lectures on drug policy in the criminology department at the University of Ottawa.
Statistics Canada also said the combined rate of drug-related offences for substances other than cannabis and cocaine, which had also been on the decline, has been increasing since 2010.
That included a seven per cent increase in the number of police-reported offences related to the possession of drugs such as prescription drugs, including opioids such as fentanyl, LSD and so-called “date rape” drugs in 2016, compared to the previous year. There was also a slight uptick in the number of drugimpaired driving violations — 3,098 in ’16 compared to 2,755 in ’15.
Still, 96 per cent of all police-reported impaired driving incidents involved alcohol last year, with only four per cent involving drugs.
Statistics Canada suggested one reason the rate is so low is that impairment from drugs is difficult to measure.
Oscapella said the legalization of marijuana should come with more public awareness of its true effects on driving. “Before, all we said was ‘Thou shall not use.’ We paid very little attention to educating people about social responsibility and driving,” he said.
Meanwhile, the national crime rate didn’t change in 2016. It has been on a downward trend since the early 1990s.
Two people hold a modified Canadian flag with a marijuana leaf in place of the Maple Leaf in Toronto in April 2016.