Canada: Ottawa Police Chief Supports Pot Decriminalization


Photo: Chris Mikula/The Gazette
Ottawa Police Chief Vern White said although he doesn’t want people to have criminal records for simple marijuana possession, he doesn’t agree that cannabis is harmless.

‚ÄčOttawa Police Chief Vern White said he isn’t interested in arresting marijuana users or giving them criminal records, and would support discussing decriminalization. “My only concern about the word ‘decriminalizing’ is the suggestion to the public that [marijuana]is not a dangerous drug,” he said.

The Ottawa Citizen asked about pot decrim following a recent community meeting, reports Tony Spears.
An Angus Reid poll earlier this month showed a majority of Canadians want to legalize marijuana. And on April 20, hundreds flocked to Parliament Hill to light up in an annual tradition in support of decriminalization.

“If this is about, ‘We don’t want people to have a criminal record for possession of marijuana,’ that message is a good message,” Chief White said. “Because I don’t want them to have a criminal record for possession of marijuana either.”
But the chief, obviously no expert when it comes to pot, claimed that studies link marijuana use to the onset of psychoses.
“So don’t say it doesn’t hurt,” White said. “It’s like saying alcohol doesn’t have a negative impact. Of course it does. But let’s focus on do we want them to have a criminal record for simple possession? If that’s the focus, I’m all for that discussion.”
White said he believes police forces across Canada would not oppose decrim.
“There’s not a police chief in the country, I think, that sits there salivating over the fact that people with simple possession charges have criminal records,” White said. “I’ll tell you the truth — most guys don’t get charged with marijuana anyway. Most people who have marijuana end up with it heeled into the ground, or with a verbal warning.”
Of more than 50,100 incidents in which police apprehended a person in possession of marijuana, officers charged the individuals with possession less than half the time, according to Statistics Canada figures for 2008.
In Ontario, however, 15,787 incidents led to 10,204 people charged. Those under 18 made up less than 20 percent of those charged.
“My support will be in having a frank discussion about whether or not we want people to have criminal records for possession of marijuana,” White said.