Nova Scotia

Halifax police say 'discretion' behind fewer marijuana charges

Halifax police take a more lenient approach to marijuana possession than many other Canadian jurisdictions.

Deputy chief Bill Moore says police putting focus on armed traffickers

A CBC survey found 56 per cent of Canadians who responded favoured legalizing marijuana, and a further 30 per cent backed decriminalization. (Siavash Dezvareh/CBC)

Halifax police take a more lenient approach to marijuana possession than many other Canadian jurisdictions.

That's in the province where the most adults use the drug, according to Statistics Canada.

But an analysis by CBC News shows Halifax police lay possession charges in 18 per cent of marijuana-related incidents. The national charge rate for police forces is close to 40 per cent. 

Nationally, for every 100,000 people in a city, 79 people are charged for pot possession. The highest rate is in Kelowna, B.C., where more than 250 people per 100,000 are charged.

In Halifax, that number drops to 42 per 100,000. 

(CBC News Graphics)
(CBC News Graphics)

"With increased availability, and with increased discussion around legalization and the like, I think more discretion is being used by officers in relation to the laying of charges," says Bill Moore, deputy chief of Halifax Regional Police.  

Moore believes many officers decide not to proceed with marijuana possession charges because of the serious repercussions it can have on a person's future, including the ability to travel internationally, and to get work.

Moore says it's also a matter of workload compared to the severity of the charge.

While laying a charge of marijuana possession triggers a strict drug testing and chain-of-evidence process, a conviction yields an average fine of $50 to $100.

Moore compares that to tickets for public drinking, which takes minutes to write, and carries a fine of $467. 

"From an enforcement perspective, one of the things that I think is contributing to the lower numbers is the requirement to do quite a deal of work for little to no impact on the back end," he says.

Moore says his officers concentrate enforcement efforts on people selling drugs, especially those armed with guns.

"Trafficking is a much more focussed effort. We're putting our energy in trying to target and get after traffickers," he said.

Moore says police in Halifax laid 202 charges of marijuana possession last year. During the same period, 165 trafficking charges were laid.

Moore says officers catch someone trafficking marijuana, it results in charges 79 per cent of the time.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story wrongly said the fine for public drinking was over $600. In fact it's $467.
    Sep 30, 2015 3:25 PM AT

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