Canada Marijuana Laws: Criminal Charges For Small Amounts Not Worth It, Police Chiefs Say

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WINNIPEG - Canada's top cops say handing out tickets for illegal possession of small amounts of marijuana could be more efficient than laying criminal charges.

Delegates at the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police annual meeting have passed a resolution that says officers need more enforcement options to deal with people caught with pot.

Association president Jim Chu, who is chief constable of the Vancouver Police Service, said having the option of writing tickets to penalize pot users caught with less than 30 grams of the drug would reduce policing and court costs.

"There's a cost to a lot of the enforcement that we do," Chu said Tuesday at the meeting in Winnipeg.

"So we believe that what's happened is because the cost to process a charge has been so high, that many circumstances where it is appropriate to address the illegal behaviour, we haven't been able to do it."

Chu pointed out that a conviction results in a criminal record that places barriers on future travel, employment and citizenship. A ticket under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act would avoid that record.

The association said its ticketing proposal would require changing federal law, but that does not mean the chiefs support the legalization of marijuana.

Chu said some officers, when confronted with simple possession, find laying charges isn't worth the effort.

"Quite often they're turning a blind eye to it because there's the problem of going off the road to process the paperwork," he said.

Justice Minister Peter MacKay said in an email to The Canadian Press that the federal government has no intention of legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana.

"These drugs are illegal because of the harmful effects they have on users — and on society for that matter. As a government, we have a responsibility to protect the interests of families across this country."

The association cited statistics from 2007 that show out of more than 100,000 drug offences reported by police that year in Canada, 47,101 of them were for marijuana possession.

The committee's report said there are circumstances where a formal charge for simple possession is appropriate, for example, if a driver who has been pulled over is found to be smoking a joint.

But the report said the large majority of simple possession cases could be more efficiently dealt with through tickets.

"By adding this additional policing tool, we are proposing a responsible public safety initiative that will be of overall benefit to all Canadians," said Chief Mark Mander, head of the association's drug abuse committee.

— By Jennifer Graham in Regina

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