A report from this past July shows a continued decline in cannabis-related arrests in Canada over the past four years, while arrests for drugs like methamphetamines, heroin, and ecstasy increased. While cannabis-related arrests continue to make up the bulk of drug arrests in Canada, they also are more likely to be stayed or withdrawn or to receive a fine rather than custody if found guilty.
The report also shows that cannabis-related arrests account for 79% of youth drug crime (A decline of 19% from 2014). These decreases are most pronounced in Ontario (-16%) and British Columbia (-17%), although declines were reported in all provinces and territories, except for Nunavut and PEI. Nunavut saw a 9% increase and Prince Edward Island’s rates remained the same.
There were about 96,000 Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) offences reported by police in 2015, with 51% (49,577) being incidents of cannabis possession and 9% related to the trafficking, production or distribution of cannabis. In 2014 there were about 104,000 drug offences, with 57,880 for basic possession and 10,700 for trafficking, production, or distribution.
While this is a positive direction, obviously these numbers are still unfortunately high. Even those only receiving a fine still potentially have to deal with an arrest on their record, which can bring numerous challenges in the future for employment or cross border travel, etc.
Canada’s overall police-reported drug offences remain at an all time high compared to low rates of arrest in the 90s, with only 198.1 per 100,000 in 1993, then spiking to 330 per 100,000 in 2011.
One Victoria man was recently convicted of possessing marijuana, and then given an absolute discharge by the Judge. Although an absolute discharge removes a criminal record, it can still mean the charges will come up in background checks.
Although the Liberals have proposed to create new, stronger laws to punish more severely those who sell cannabis outside the future legal regime, one of the reasons the Liberals gave for wanting to legalize and regulate cannabis was because “too many Canadians end up with criminal records for possessing small amounts of the drug.” Despite these declines in arrests, nearly 50,000 people being arrested, often youth, is still 50,000 too many.
No numbers yet exist for the half a year since the Liberals have taken power, but even at this current rate of decline, it’s more than possible that tens of thousands more Canadians will continue to face charges for basic possession of a plant the current government has promised to legalize.
Featured image via Wikimedia