Sta­tis­tics Canada says pot of­fences down again in 2016

About 55,000 cases re­lated to mar­i­juana re­ported to po­lice last year

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - JOANNA SMITH

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.

CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO

Two peo­ple hold a mod­i­fied Canadian flag with a mar­i­juana leaf in place of the Maple Leaf in Toronto in April 2016.

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