News / Vancouver

Vancouver Police Chief says tickets for pot would be 'a tool well used'

Vancouver Police Chief and president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs Const. Jim Chu continued his campaign on Thursday to pressure Ottawa to give police the power to issue tickets for possession of marijuana.

He called a press conference in Vancouver after returning from the association's annual meeting this week in Winnipeg, where a resolution was passed to ask the federal government for the new tool for cases involving less than 30 grams.

"It's difficult for us to apply any form of consequence, because to take a charge of possession to the courts requires lots and lots of paperwork, and it actually can take the officer off the road for several hours," Chu said, waving a form more than 20 pages long.

"...We think our proposal will save money for the justice system, it will save time for police officers, and also the courts, who arguably have other, more serious matters to deal with."

Vancouver's force is something of a bubble of tolerance toward marijuana possession, with a 2011 charge rate of 30 per 100,000 people — less than half the national rate of 81 per 100,000 people, according to Statistics Canada.

But province-wide there were more than 3,580 charges laid for simple possession in 2012, according to the Sensible B.C. campaign, which is trying to collect enough signatures to trigger a referendum on decriminalization. That is nearly double the rate of charges in any other province.

Prominent legalization activist Jodie Emery said it is positive Chu talked about the "disproportionate" impact criminal charges for pot can have on people's lives, such as placing barriers on future travel, employment and citizenship.

But she is not sure whether the measure might result in a ticketing spree or a "cash grab" by some forces.

"It's within the realm of possibilities that police will now do a serious crackdown and start ticketing everybody, and again, punishment for pot shouldn't exist at all," she said. "But when I look at it, any sort of reduced punishment is better."

When asked whether Vancouver police would be less likely to turn a blind eye to possession given the ability to ticket, Chu said he believes it would be "a tool well used."

In response to the chiefs' position, Justice Minister Peter MacKay said in an email that the federal government has no intention of decriminalizing marijuana.

"These drugs are illegal because of the harmful effects they have on users — and on society for that matter. As a government, we have a responsibility to protect the interests of families across this country."

-With a file from The Canadian Press

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