Since Justin Trudeau became Prime Minister, I estimate that there have been over 56,000 "police reported incidents" of cannabis possession in Canada.
"Police reported incidents" is a term used by Statistics Canada, and is essentially synonymous with "arrests" in practical terms. Police virtually never file a report if there is no arrest made.
Note that these are not cases where people are being arrested for a more serious crime, and the police also find a joint in their pocket. These are "federal statute incidents reported by police, by most serious offence." So in all these "incidents," cannabis possession was the most serious "crime" being committed.
In the majority of cases, these possession arrests do not lead to charges. However, being arrested results in a police record, is humiliating for the person being arrested, wastes police resources, and reduces public respect for police.
Also, the possession laws are primarily enforced against minority and first nation Canadians. Bill Blair himself called the disproportional enforcement of cannabis laws "one of the great injustices in this country," and complained about "the impact that it has on minority communities, aboriginal communities and those in our most vulnerable neighbourhoods." Yet still arrests continue.
Statistics for 2016 won't be available for a few more months, but I derived the 56,000 figure as an educated guess based on numbers from 2015 and previous years.
Cannabis possession arrests had generally been rising under Harper from 2006 to 2014, but the drop in 2015 brought the number back down closer to the average level it had been from 2002-2005.
For all other cannabis "crimes" of growing, selling or transporting, there were slightly over 9,000 arrests in 2015, compared to 10,700 in 2014. That's a 16% drop.
Looking back to 2002-2005, the last years of the previous Liberal government, we see that the current rate of these "other" cannabis arrests represents a big drop, down to about half of the arrest rate from that period.
So while possession arrests have bounced up and down a bit, but generally held steady over the past 15 years, from a low of 43,000 to a high of 57,880, all other cannabis arrests have been dropping, and are now about half the rate of 2005.
I don't believe that this drop in arrests is due to any change in police policy, but rather due to the fact that there's now many legal medical growers and users, which has reduced the number of people available for the police to arrest.
This is the cutline. (Photo: Brett Lewin/Bloomberg)
Estimating cannabis arrest rates under Trudeau
I used the following method to estimate the number of possession arrests under Trudeau.
In 2015, the rate of possession arrests was 135.8 a day. So in the 58 days following Trudeau's election victory on November 4, there were 7876 arrests for cannabis possession.
For 2016 and the beginning of 2017, I am going to generously assume there was another 15% drop in the rate of possession arrests. (We'll get the real numbers in a few months.) So instead of 49,677 arrests, I'm estimating 42,140 for 2016, which is 115 arrests a day.
I'm writing this on February 22, so that's 53 days days into 2017. At the rate of 115 a day, that's an additional 6,095 arrests so far this year.
Add up all these numbers, and that's 56,111 cannabis possession arrests since Trudeau was elected. And that number is getting bigger at a rate of about 115 people every day. By the time Cannabis-Canadians are celebrating 4/20 on April 20th, there will have been over 5,500 additional arrests.
Trudeau's team is now saying it could be 2019 before we see legalization in Canada, and that they want the police to "enforce the law" until the law changes. This will mean over another 100,000 more arrests for cannabis possession under Trudeau.
It is time for action. Trudeau can easily end arrests for possession under 30 grams, by simply removing this amount from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
"For most Canadians, especially in the north, arrests and charges for small amounts of cannabis are a sad reality."
The Liberals could also do the same for cultivation of a small number of plants. If cultivation of just 6 plants or less was removed from the CDSA, then every Canadian could produce their own supply. If the Liberals are serious about eliminating the black market, then allowing personal cultivation should be an immediate priority.
These actions don't even require the approval of Parliament, but with a solid majority and the NDP already pushing for immediate decriminalization, stopping possession arrests would be very easily done.
Some big cities in Canada, like Toronto and Vancouver, have already dramatically reduced cannabis possession arrest rates over the years. But for most Canadians, especially in the north, arrests and charges for small amounts of cannabis are a sad reality. We don't need more studies or more delays, we need action, and an end to arrests now.
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