Marijuana legalization is still one year away, more or less, and yet Canadians continue to be charged with possession. Convictions have declined for most drug offences, since the 2015 election; however, there are still inequities in how possession charges are applied.
In 2015, 21,000 people were charged with possession. In 2016, it was 17,733 according to Statistics Canada. In comparison, 24,540 were charged in 2014, the year prior to election year.
While this is an improvement, charges continue to be laid. Since the government has refused to look at decriminalization to avoid these charges, marijuana still remains a criminal offence and even a small amount can cause a person to have a criminal record.
Who gets charged with possession?
There is evidence that marijuana possession charges are being applied inequitably across the country.
Geographically: Different police forces vary in how strictly the law is applied. One report showed that St. John’s had considerably lower rates per capita of marijuana charges than Kelowna in 2014 (11 charges per 100,000 population compared to 251).
Ethnically: Studies have shown that black Canadians and First Nations are more likely to be charged and convicted of possession. A Toronto Star analysis found that blacks with no criminal record were three times more likely to be arrested than whites with no record despite not having a higher usage rate. Though rates of charges against Aboriginals were not tracked, Aboriginals are disproportionately involved with the criminal justice system according to a number of experts.
Most charges for simple possession (less than 30 grams) are stayed or subject to an absolute or conditional discharge. However, charges can also complicate a person’s life, especially if you want to cross the border. The United States government will treat a discharge the same way they treat an actual conviction. You can be banned from entering without a waiver.
In other cases, people have plead down more serious charges to possession. This is one of the arguments given for why the government should not offer blanket pardons to those with possession convictions. These individuals could have been trafficking or have been in possession of more serious narcotics.
Legalization could happen by Canada Day 2018, but it may take longer. After legalization, people over 18 (or older depending on the province) can legally purchase from government-regulated providers and can carry up to 30 grams. They can also grow their own as long as they don’t have more than four plants.
Fewer criminal records is a major benefit to the legislation being planned by the current government. A drug conviction can hold people back in career, education, travel and volunteer opportunity.