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National Post

Thursday, April 22, 1999

Police chiefs get through to the top

Minister says Ottawa will consider advice to decriminalize pot

Robert Fife

National Post

OTTAWA - Anne McLellan, the Justice Minister, said yesterday the federal government will give serious consideration to a recommendation from Canada's police chiefs to decriminalize simple possession of marijuana and hashish.

The board of directors of the Association of Canadian Police Chiefs has approved the decriminalization proposal, but insists that provincial and federal governments direct more funding to treatment of drug abuse as well as educational prevention programs.

Under the proposal, anyone convicted of possession of a small amount of marijuana or hashish would pay a fine that could be settled out of court on a first offence. The police chiefs believe this would clear a backlog of drug cases in the courts and allow them to focus their resources on more serious crimes, like drug trafficking.

"We as a government take the resolutions of the Canadian chiefs very seriously," Ms. McLellan told reporters. "Obviously the police have concerns about maximizing the use of their resources and certainly this is part of a larger debate about how we should deal with certain aspects of the possession or use of drugs."

Ms. McLellan said she will discuss the proposal with the chiefs at their annual meeting this summer, noting they have a lot of credibility with the public.

Barry King, the Brockville, Ont. police chief who headed the association's drug awareness task force, said they are not recommending decriminalization of other forms of narcotics such as heroin or cocaine, as some chiefs had thought to be the case.

However, Mr. King said the ACPC will not object to the medical use of morphine or heroin, providing the use has been properly approved by Health Canada and sufficient safeguards are in place.

"If they go through the assessment process and determine there is a benefit -- we're not saying there is -- but if they do then we will accept that," he said. "All we are saying is that when they do that, that there is safeguards such as safe storage, prescription monitoring and that sort of thing."

Mr. King said not only do the police want governments to do more to deal with drug abuse, but they are asking for increased financing to combat organized crime smuggling drugs into Canada.

The police chiefs' proposal was condemned by the Reform party as a "slippery road" to legalization of narcotics that could have far-reaching consequences for Canadian society.


National Post
Wed 21 Apr 1999 News A1 / Front

[April 22, 1999: Note from Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy: The following was the original story, which spoke [incorrectly, it appears] of police support for decriminalizing possession of all drugs.]


Police chiefs want possession of all narcotics decriminalized: Fight court backlog

By: Robert Fife, Ottawa Bureau Chief

OTTAWA - Canada's police chiefs are recommending that the federal government decriminalize possession of small quantities of all illegal narcotics, including heroin, the National Post has learned.

If the federal government accepts the proposal, anyone convicted of simple possession of narcotics would simply sign a guilty statement and pay a fine, without having to go through the court system. They would not have a criminal record.

The proposal is meant to clear the courts of a backlog of drug cases and allow police to concentrate resources on more serious crimes.

It was approved by the board of directors of the Association of Canadian Police Chiefs last week and will be submitted to the membership for a vote later this year.

The association's drug abuse committee, led by Barry King, Chief of the Brockville, Ont. police force, proposed decriminalization of narcotics, but also called for new federal and provincial programs to deal with substance abuse.

Senior federal officials were part of the ``intense dialogue'' in the drafting of the proposal and one top Justice Department official said it will be given serious consideration.

Mr. King would not offer details until the proposal is revealed at a news conference next week, but Julian Fantino, chief of the York Region police force and a member of the association's board of directors, stressed they are not recommending legalization of marijunana, cocaine, heroin, or other illegal drugs.

Mr. Fantino said Canada's police chiefs are responding to the reality that police forces are wasting scarce resources going to court when most judges throw out drug-possession cases.

``I mean we diligently put these cases forward but in places like Vancouver, for example, it is a terrible problem just trying to get any kind of conviction for these issues using the courts. . . It is just draining our resources and, in the end, the outcome is nothing,'' he told the National Post yesterday.

Chief Fantino stressed, however, that the police chiefs also want politicians to direct substantial funds to help deal with drug abuse, as well as for education programs to dissuade young people from trying narcotics.

He points to the United States, where efforts are underway to treat drug abuse as a health issue and not as a crime.

``We rely heavily on the criminal justice system, the police to deal with this issue. We need a strategic, sophisticated drug policy in this country. There needs to be a great deal more effort with respect to education, getting at young people and treating people who want to be treated,'' he said.

However, Mr. Fantino said the police also need funds to go after organized crime, which is the principal conduit of illegal drugs into Canada. The problem is that governments are short-changing the police, he said.

``We don't seem to realize how devastating it is to see the deterioration of communities, the ruination of lives, but this is directly linked to the activities of organized crime . . . but we have to go begging for the resources to help us do anything of meaningful work with respect to organized crime. Our priorities in this country are all screwed up,'' he said.

A senior law enforcement official, however, who asked not to be identified, said the government would be foolish to accept the proposal by the police chiefs. It would particularly anger the Americans, who are already upset about Canada's inability to stop smuggling of drugs and immigrants into the U.S.

``I wonder how they will react to know that the federal government is contemplating decriminalizing possession of narcotics. I suspect they would be somewhat pissed,'' said the official, who noted it is a subject of controversy among police forces.



Friday, 23 Apr 1999
London Free Press (Canada)

Author: Roxanne Beaubien

 A pitch by Canadian police chiefs to decriminalize simple pot possession has the support of London police
brass -- on one condition.

That the second prong of the proposal -- funding education, prevention and drug treatment programs -- is also
endorsed by the federal government, Deputy Chief Brian Collins said yesterday.

But he says "decriminalizing" possession of small amounts of marijuana and its derivatives, like hash and oil, is
a far cry from legalizing the illicit weed.

The board of the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs has adopted a policy that calls on Ottawa to give police
the option of issuing a ticket to someone caught with 30 grams or less, or requiring community service, instead
of laying a criminal charge.

Collins said making simple possession a ticketable offence, as opposed to a criminal offence, would save the
justice system money that could be directed to higher level crime. "It would allow a greater concentration on
those who are abusing people," meaning traffickers and producers, he said.

 "It's not a knee-jerk reaction" to the current debate about legalizing marijuana, he said. "The key is the balance"
between proactive programs and decriminalizing the offence, Collins said.

"They've made it a total package." London police Chief Al Gramolini wasn't available for comment yesterday.

Justice Minister Anne McLellan was described as receptive to the proposal and said the government will
consider it.

House of Commons

Edited Hansard Number 212

Wednesday, April 21, 1999

. . .


Mr. Bernard Bigras (Rosemont, BQ): Mr. Speaker, this morning, the Minister of Justice said she was open to the idea of decriminalizing the simple possession of drugs. However we know that those who use marijuana for therapeutic purposes are in a particularly difficult situation.

Would the minister agree to move quickly for those already using marijuana for therapeutic purposes so that they no longer have to face the threat of being charged?


Hon. Anne McLellan (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I believe the hon. member is referring to a resolution passed by the Canadian chiefs of police yesterday in relation to the possession of a number of narcotic drugs. As I indicated this morning to the press, I am certainly going to review the resolution passed by the Canadian chiefs and I look forward to discussing it with them at their annual meeting this August.


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