Saskatoon top place in Canada to be charged for marijuana possession

Saskatchewan is the place you're most likely to get busted for simple possession of marijuana and Saskatoon tops the list of major Canadian cities.

Saskatoon Police laying a charge in almost 80% of pot stops: Statistics Canada, 2014

Jeffrey Lundstrom, owner of the Skunk Funk head shop in Saskatoon, advocates decriminalizing marijuana use. (Kathy Fitzpatrick/CBC)

Saskatchewan is the place you're most likely to get busted for simple possession of marijuana and Saskatoon tops the list of major Canadian cities. 

According to 2014 data from Statistics Canada, 77 per cent of the time Saskatoon police stop someone suspected of having pot, they lay a charge.That compares with 48 per cent in Regina . The Canadian average was 39 per cent.

Meanwhile, if you look at the per capita rates of pot charges, Saskatoon ranks fourth behind Kelowna, Gatineau and Sherbrooke.

Lucas Richert, a history instructor at the U of S who has an academic interest in pop culture and drugs in North America, said we have to look at many factors when it comes to any conclusions we derive from enforcement rates. 

"Saskatchewan is a microcosm of wildly inconsistent enforcement rates across Canada." 

Saskatoon has chosen a specific course of action on pot, Richert said.

Drug charges including marijuana are laws that we enforce- Det. Insp. Dave Haye, Saskatoon Police Service

"Saskatoon has traditionally adopted the so-called broken windows approach to enforcement of marijuana," he said. "The broken windows approach is the idea that a visible police presence and severe crackdown on smaller infractions will deter larger crimes."

He added that resources are a large factor to consider when looking at these rates, as well as "the philosophy of a given chief."

Detective Inspector Dave Haye of the Saskatoon Police Service said, generally speaking, if you are caught with marijuana in Saskatoon, you are going to be charged.  

"Well, the Saskatoon police service has historically had a position where we enforce the law. And drug charges including marijuana are laws that we enforce," Haye said.

"And so we do that to the best of our ability, providing the service that we believe the citizens of our community are looking for from us."

But he says it depends on the amount, the age of the person and other mitigating factors.

For example, a youth caught with a joint for the first or maybe second time is likely diverted to drug class, where the whole family sits down and goes through a police presentation on the dangers of marijuana.

Numbers rising in Regina

In Regina, police inspector Darcy Koch is at a loss to explain the differing charge rates across the country. 

"I can't speak for those services across the country but I think that our officers, part of their training is that discretion is part of being a police officer," Koch said.

In considering whether to lay a charge, officers ask themselves "is it the best for the individual we're dealing with, is it the best for public safety", Koch explained.

Over the past decade, the number of pot-possession investigations and charges in Regina has climbed. From 2006 to 2014, the rate of charges rose from 43 to 48 per cent. The number of reported incidents more than doubled, from 144 to 307. And, the number of people charged per 100,000 of population also more than doubled, from 36.5 to 83.

Koch said it may be explained by the city's growth. He said it's not due to any change in the approach taken by the Regina Police Service.

"I think it's good investigations. It's dedicating committed officers to getting the information and following it through to its conclusion," he said.

'Using a sledgehammer for a flea'

Neil Boyd, director of the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University, has concerns about who is facing criminal consequences for pot possession.

"I don't think that we can really be confident that the law is being applied equally," Boyd said. "We know that young people with fewer resources and less access to private space are going to be much more likely to be processed for this offense than people who are older and have access to private space."

Boyd said some people may see outdoor use of marijuana as a nuisance. 

"It could be a civil fine for public use of cannabis, that would be entirely legitimate. But to treat a person who's using cannabis as a criminal. It's like using a sledgehammer for a flea."

Two years ago, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police called for the option to write a ticket for simple possession, noting that right now their only choice is to lay charges or turn a blind eye.

Jeff Lundstrom, the owner of the Skunk Funk head shop in Saskatoon, said he's not impressed with the idea of a ticket.

"So you're burning somebody not with going to jail but (financially). So I mean a lot of people that consume cannabis, especially if you're a medicinal marijuana user, are fairly financially broken to begin with, on some sort of disability," Lundstrom said.

"I don't think that that's going to solve any problem. We need to see legalization across the board. That's the only way this problem's going to go away."

Compare Cities

Percentage of incidents that lead to a charge in 2014 by city

Canada 39%

  • Saskatoon, Saskatchewan 77%
  • Peterborough, Ontario 68%
  • Kingston, Ontario 66%
  • Winnipeg, Manitoba 66%
  • Barrie, Ontario 66%
  • Sherbrooke, Quebec 57%
  • Ottawa-Gatineau, Quebec part 56%
  • Windsor, Ontario 55%
  • Edmonton, Alberta 54%
  • Montreal, Quebec 54%
  • Trois-Rivieres, Quebec 53%
  • Calgary, Alberta 51%
  • Regina, Saskatchewan 48%
  • Quebec, Quebec 48%
  • Ottawa-Gatineau, Ontario/Quebec 47%
  • Saint John, New Brunswick 47%
  • Brantford, Ontario 46%
  • Toronto, Ontario 44%
  • Saguenay, Quebec 43%
  • Kelowna, British Columbia 43%
  • London, Ontario 43%
  • Sudbury, Ontario 41%
  • Hamilton, Ontario 40%
  • Ottawa-Gatineau, Ontario part 40%
  • Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo, Ontario 31%
  • Thunder Bay, Ontario 31%
  • Moncton, New Brunswick 25%
  • St.Catharines-Niagara, Ontario 23%
  • Guelph, Ontario 20%
  • Abbotsford-Mission, British Columbia 18%
  • Halifax, Nova Scotia 18%
  • Vancouver, British Columbia 16%
  • Victoria, British Columbia 15%
  • St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador 7%

Number of incidents that led to a charge being laid by province in 2014

  • Saskatchewan 54%
  • Quebec 49%
  • Ontario 46%
  • Alberta 44%
  • Manitoba 37%
  • New Brunswick 35%
  • Prince Edward Island 31%
  • Nunavut 30%
  • Nova Scotia 22%
  • British Columbia 21%
  • Northwest Territories 20%
  • Yukon 20%
  • Newfoundland and Labrador 20%