Vancouver’s top cop calls for ending criminal marijuana possession charges


Mary McNeil/Flickr.
Vancouver Police Department Chief Jim Chu.

Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu says that police need more options in dealing with marijuana possession charges and decriminalizing the possession of 30 grams or less at the federal level could save millions in court and police costs.
Chu delivered his message to his peers earlier this week at the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police annual meeting. The association also passed a resolution urging the government to provide alternative ways of dealing with the “crime” of low-level marijuana possession.

“There’s a cost to a lot of the enforcement that we do,” Chu told fellow lawmakers at the meeting. “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 behavior, we haven’t been able to do it.”
In Canada, a criminal record resulting from a marijuana conviction can prevent people from traveling outside of the country, finding a job and even gaining citizenship if they happen to be a foreign national. If cannabis were decriminalized, those found with small amounts wouldn’t have to worry about possession going on their record.
There were more than 3,774 marijuana possession charges in British Columbia in 2011.
Here’s the catch, though: stand-alone marijuana charges are pretty rare in Vancouver. There were 34 charges in 2006 and just six in 2010, according to the Leader-Post. According to Chu (who isn’t a marijuana legalization proponent by any means) the decline in stand-alone charges isn’t due to a decline in people possessing marijuana, it’s due to police being lazy.
Essentially, he’s saying that an ounce of marijuana isn’t worth the hassle to arrest a person over, but they would still like to be able to enforce the law. And while marijuana advocates (rightly) tout such decriminalization moves as progress, they could actually mean an increase in police enforcing the law.
In Rhode Island, for example, tickets have increased since an ounce or less was decriminalized in April. In fact, police have written more than 850 tickets since that time – no doubt in part because writing the ticket is much easier than having to arrest someone and police would often just let small possession cases go after confiscating the stash and issuing a warning simply to avoid the hassle.
Chu said that this scenario often plays out in Vancouver: “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.
Though we shouldn’t have any penalties for possession whatsoever, getting a ticket for an ounce is better than a night in jail.
Unfortunately, the Canadian feds aren’t going to be legalizing or decriminalizing cannabis anytime soon despite several high-profile former leaders urging the government to be more proactive on the measure according to Seattle PI
“These drugs are illegal because of the harmful effects they have on users — and on society for that matter,” Canadian Justice Minister Peter MacKay told the Canadian Press. “As a government, we have a responsibility to protect the interests of families across this country.”