Sometime this year, if it hasn’t happened already, the millionth Canadian will be arrested for marijuana possession, Dana Larsen estimates. The indefatigable B.C.-based activist for pot legalization is thinking of marking the occasion with a special ceremony. True, it will be impossible to know exactly who the millionth person is, but with the Conservative government’s amped-up war on drugs, it won’t be hard to find a nominee. As Larsen notes, the war on drugs in Canada is mostly a war on marijuana, “and most of that is a war on marijuana users.”
The numbers bear him out. Since the Tories came to power in 2006, and slammed the door on the previous Liberal government’s muddled plans to reduce or decriminalize marijuana penalties, arrests for pot possession have jumped 41 per cent. In those six years, police reported more than 405,000 marijuana-related arrests, roughly equivalent to the populations of Regina and Saskatoon combined.
In the statistic-driven world of policing, pot users are the low-hanging fruit, says Larsen, director of Sensible BC, a non-profit group organizing to put marijuana decriminalization on a provincial referendum ballot in 2014. “We’re seeing crime drop across Canada. [Police] feel they’ve got nothing better to do. You can throw a rock and find a marijuana user,” he says over coffee in his Burnaby home. “It’s very easy to do.”
But is it the right thing to do? Most certainly that’s the view of the federal government, which has been unshakable in its belief that pot users are criminals, and that such criminals need arresting if Canada is to be a safer place. The message hasn’t changed though Canada’s crime rate has plummeted to its lowest level in 40 years. “It depends on which type of crime you’re talking about,” Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said in an interview with the Globe and Mail, a typical defence of the Conservative’s omnibus crime bill, which includes new mandatory minimum sentences for some drug crimes. “Among other...