Canada’s police chiefs have voted overwhelmingly in favour of reforming drug laws in the country.
The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, meeting in Winnipeg this week, wants officers to have the ability to ticket people found with 30 grams of marijuana or less.
Kentville, N.S., police Chief Mark Mander, chair of the association's drug-abuse committee, said Tuesday officers currently have only two choices: turn a blind eye or lay down the law.
Mander said officers could "either to caution the offender or lay formal charges resulting in [a] lengthy, difficult process, which results in a criminal charge if proven, a criminal conviction, and a criminal record.”
Mander said ticketing the offender would be far less onerous and expensive.
However, federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay said there are no plans in the works to legalize or decriminalize marijuana. Though McKay had no follow up on the chiefs’ recommendation, he said he appreciates their input.
“We don’t support legalization or decriminalization,” Mander said.
"Clearly there are circumstances where a formal charge for simple possession is appropriate. However, the large majority of simple possession cases would be more effectively, efficiently dealt with [by issuing a ticket]," he added, noting the move would free up court time.
The president of the association and Vancouver police Chief Jim Chu said the plan offers a good compromise.
“It’s a middle ground there, right? Nothing is nothing. All is a criminal record,” Chu said.
Bill Vandegraaf, an advocate for marijuana use, said the ticket system amounts to decriminalization.
“They are diminishing the seriousness of the offence," said the former Winnipeg police officer, a member of the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition who is currently licensed to grow and use marijuana for medical purposes.
"They are turning it into a common offence where they issue tickets on the street.”
Vandergraaf called the proposal a good first step, but said it doesn’t go far enough. “If it’s going to be a common offence notice, they might as well end prohibition altogether,” he said.
Many American states have moved to decriminalize or legalize marijuana, but federal laws remain unchanged.
In Seattle last week, police officers handed out bags of Doritos chips with copies of the state’s new pot laws at an annual marijuana festival. Washington state legalized weed in 2012.
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