The Week — Feb. 28: The cost of enforcement

Marijuana enforcement is costing British Columbia more than any other province in the country, and a charitable way to exercise

A new study shows B.C. spends more per capita on cannabis enforcement than any other province, despite B.C.’s smoking rates mirroring the national average.

A new study shows B.C. spends more per capita on cannabis enforcement than any other province, despite B.C.’s smoking rates mirroring the national average.

The cost of enforcement

The plume has lifted and the reflection is clear: marijuana enforcement is costing British Columbia more than any other province in the country — to the tune of about 10.5 million taxpayer dollars each year.

Criminology Professor Neil Boyd released a study this week that analyzes the costs and outcomes of enforcement against marijuana possession in B.C. The study, titled “The Enforcement Of Marijuana Possession Offences in British Columbia: A Blueprint for Change,” was funded by the Sensible BC campaign and showed that our province spends much more per capita to police and charge marijuana users than any other province.

“The rate of marijuana use in B.C. is fairly close to that in other provinces,” says Boyd. “Seven per cent of British Columbians used marijuana in the past week, compared to a national average of six per cent. However, the rate of marijuana offenses reported by police in B.C. is far higher than that of any other province, and almost double that of the national average.”

Boyd’s study shows that considerable RCMP resources are used to enforce cannabis possession in the province. With a reported 16,578 police reports of marijuana possession in B.C. in 2011, 3,774 of those led to charges and about 1,200 British Columbians were convicted of marijuana possession that year.

“RCMP have been laying more possession charges across Canada since 2005, with a 30 per cent increase since that time,” says Boyd. “But in B.C., the increase has been the greatest of the provinces, with charges for marijuana possession more than doubling here in six years.”

Important to note: this increase does not include Vancouver, Boyd says, where possession charges have declined as a direct result of Vancouver PD policy. And when it comes to Victoria, charges have not increased in the last 10 years — save one bump in 2010. In 2011, 41 charges of possession occurred in our city, showing a surprising gradual decrease. Boyd discovered, however, that the brunt of cannabis prohibition in B.C. falls upon the user, with 91 per cent of all cleared cannabis offences possession-related.

“The picture that emerges from our research is one of enforcement without any consistency or purpose,” says Boyd. “There is no clear logic applied in relation to the decision to detain, to confiscate, to charge or to convict, outside of a consistent pattern of either use in public, or use in relation to a motor vehicle. The decision with respect to who will then be charged appears to amount to a rather arbitrary use of discretion.”

Dana Larsen, director of the Sensible BC campaign, believes that the proposed Sensible Policing Act would put an end to wasted dollars and that passing this law would “let the RCMP focus their resources on real crimes.”

“This study shows the need to reform how we deal with marijuana and marijuana possession in B.C.,” says Larsen. “The vast majority of British Columbians don’t think possession of marijuana should be a criminal offence, but the RCMP here are on their own crusade, blowing ever-increasing amounts of taxpayers money on their failed war against pot smokers.”

For those who want to hop a boat to pursue the topic, Boyd will be speaking about his research in Vancouver on Feb. 28 and March 1, with a panel including Micheal Vonn of the BC Civil Liberties Assocation, Bill Vandergraaf, a retired Winnipeg police detective and Dr. Lynda Balneaves, associate professor in UBC’s School of Nursing. Learn more at sensiblebc.ca.

A charitable way to exercise

While every serious runner in Victoria is distracted by the upcoming April TC 10K, another marathon is preparing to award 19 local charities some much-needed support come the fall — meaning even non-athletic types now have time to train.

The 34th annual GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon, taking place Oct. 13, announced this week that 19 charities will have the chance to raise awareness and funds by encouraging individuals to run or walk for their causes, and by collecting pledges.

Charities, including the likes of the Mary Manning Centre, NEED 2 Suicide Prevention and Support, Pacifica Housing, Young Parents Support Network and 15 others, are aiming to surpass the million-dollar mark of pledges raised since the program adopted its charitable effort in 2006.

“Associating me with anything running-related is like having Charlie Sheen as your life-skills coach,” says Jack Knox, honourary chair of the event. “I haven’t run with any sense of urgency since 1981, when I was chased by a biker in Amsterdam. But I am delighted that the marathon organizers are using the event as a path to a better community. You don’t need to be a competitive runner to get behind that.”

Join in at: runvictoriamarathon.com. M

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