Canada may ease marijuana laws

Mar 14, 2014

Canada's justice minister describes it as only a small adjustment.  But politically it's a huge  policy shift for a government that's fought any suggestion of easing the country's marijuana laws.  Ottawa is now looking at allowing police to write tickets for illegal possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Prime minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government has now confirmed, what some insiders in Ottawa have been talking about for a couple of weeks--it's working to change the laws on possession of small amounts of marijuana, making it a ticketing offense instead of a criminal charge.

The moves come in the wake of two U-S states approving the legalization of marijuana and follow a call last summer by Canada's chiefs of police to ease the pot laws.

"The option to give a ticket gives a police officer an additional tool to deal with inappropriate and illegal behavior but still the officer would retain the option to lay a criminal charge,"  said Vancouver police chief Jim Chiu, who is president of the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs.

Given that kind of pressure from police across the country, some change was inevitable.

"What we are talking about is very much in line with what the chiefs of police have proposed and that is giving police further discretion when it comes to the treatment of small amounts of marijuana," said Peter MacKay, Canada's justice minister.

Mackay insists this is not a step towards the decriminalization or legalization of marijuana.  Still it's a huge step for a government that a year ago launched a campaign criticizing  opposition Liberal leader Justin Trudeau for this comment.

"I have been, in my past, a very rare user of marijuana, I think, five or six times in my life that I have taken a puff," he said. 
Trudeau supports the idea of decriminalizing marijuana, saying the Harper government has been out of touch with Canadians.

So the new laws would give police an option.  They could, however, still charge people with a criminal offense if an officer believes that is appropriate.  Police chiefs say the change would reduce paperwork as well as the backlog in the courts and free up an officers' time.  It could also result in a minor offense instead of a criminal record which is what people caught with even one joint, now face.

While some countries have moved far ahead of Canada on marijuana reform, any further easing of the pot laws here  are unlikely any time soon.