Almost 7,000 people 25 years and under have been charged with cannabis possession in Canada between October 2015 and April 2017, according to numbers from the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, released today by the National Post. Of those 7000, 774 resulted in convictions.
The article also notes that more than 8,300 Canadians over 25 years of age were charged, and 1,361 were convicted.
The Liberals were elected in October 2015 on a promise to legalize cannabis and end arrests for personal possession. Although cannabis related arrests have continued even after the election, they have continued to decline over the past several years in Canada from record highs earlier this decade.
The Liberal Party even approved and ran a campaign video in the lead up to the 2015 election that had a young man asking “Why should getting caught with a joint put an end to my future?” Trudeau suggested at one Vancouver campaign stop that the party would look at overturning past conviction records for those charged with basic possession.
Then, on April 20th, 2016 at the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs, Canada’s Health Minister Jane Philpott told the assembly that Canada would be tabling legislation to legalize marijuana by the spring of 2017 and that the approach of prohibition has failed, telling the audience that "We know it is impossible to arrest our way out of this problem."
According to the National Post report, the total number of arrests and convictions is likely higher than these initial figures suggest because Quebec and New Brunswick prosecution services do not monitor other police agencies outside the RCMP. The number of convictions could also increase significantly, says the article, as about half of the prosecutions are still in progress.
Although many in the NDP have been calling for the immediate end to arrests for small, personal amounts of cannabis, as well as calling for amnesty for past arrests, the Liberals continue to argue that this would run counter to their goal of targeting organized crime.
Alistair Macgregor, the NDP’s Justice Critic has been particularly vocal on the issue of decriminalization and amnesty. Recently, during the second reading of Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, Macgregor emphasized these points again.
“We have repeatedly pointed out to the government that it could have instituted decriminalization as an interim measure to make sure that our police and crown prosecutors do not have to deal with minor marijuana possession charges,” said Macgregor in the House of Commons earlier this week. “As the law is currently written, under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, these are still crimes.”
“We do not have enough crown prosecutors, we do not have enough courtrooms, and we do not have enough administrative staff to run an effective justice system today. The minister has repeatedly identified these problems and has acknowledged that the criminal approach is ineffective, yet the government refuses to do anything as an interim measure. It is falling back on the same tired arguments, which I do not think Canadians are very convinced of. Perhaps the Liberals are, but I think Canadians, when they hear those arguments, do not buy into the Liberal argument. Aside from appointing the proper number of judges and resourcing the system properly, enacting decriminalization could be very effective.”
Jody Wilson-Raybould, the government’s Justice Minister, has repeatedly argued during second reading that such measures would run counter to the Liberal’s goals for legalization.
“We are committed to legalizing, strictly regulating, and restricting access to cannabis," said Wilson-Raybould at one point during second reading in response to comments about arrests of Canadians. "The reason, as the member clearly articulated, is to keep it out of the hands of children and the proceeds out of the hands of criminals. By simply decriminalizing right now, we would not be able to achieve those objectives."
“That is why we are working very diligently, benefiting from the substantive input we received from the task force and Canadians right across the country, to ensure that we put in place, working with the provinces, territories, and municipalities, this complex regime for the legalization and strict regulation of cannabis. That is what we are focused on. We are very hopeful that this legislation will move through the parliamentary process and that we will have a legal regime in this country to achieve the objectives I stated in my remarks: keeping cannabis out of the hands of kids, keeping the proceeds out of the hands of criminals, and ensuring that for minor possession offences, we are not criminalizing young people and adults.”
The second reading of the Cannabis act is expected to continue next week.