By BETSY POWELL City Hall Bureau, Toronto Star
Mon., June 12, 2017
Toronto’s Board of Health is calling on the federal government to decriminalize pot possession immediately as part has of a package of recommendations it adopted unanimously on the looming legalization of marijuana.
The “fact it is still criminal is criminal,” board member and Councillor Paula Fletcher said during Monday’s Board of Health meeting.
Fletcher noted illegal pot dispensaries continue to operate in the city, while “some of my residents are being charged with possession and trafficking for hand-to-hand sales of marijuana. It does not seem fair at all.”
Recreational marijuana is set to become legal in Canada in July 2018.
Board members praised Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa for providing a roadmap to the city, designed to “protect health and minimize harms of use” associated with pot.
The board backed her recommendations to ask the province to set the minimum age of purchase for cannabis at 19 to align with the minimum age for legal purchase of alcohol in Ontario.
Ottawa has set 18 as a minimum age for buying pot, but has given the provinces and territories the authority to increase the age but not lower it.
The board also wants the province to establish a provincially controlled agency for the retail sale and distribution of recreational pot, separate from the LCBO, and establish a social responsibility program.
Under the proposed legislation, the federal government will be responsible for the production of cannabis. The provincial and territorial governments are responsible for developing, implementing, maintaining and enforcing systems to oversee the distribution and retail sale of cannabis.
The recommendations recognize that “we’re not putting it (pot) in the paradigm of fruits and vegetables. This is not about broccoli and carrots,” said board chair and Councillor Joe Mihevc.
“This is a product that has a lot of health risks associated with it, and, so, as a society, we want to put controls on how it happens, where it happens, cost, who distributes, and so on, and so forth.”
Mihevc said he favours legalization because it is taking “a major piece” of marijuana out of the criminal justice system.
“It doesn’t belong there, because all we’re doing is getting a whole bunch of young kids arrested. We’re having an underground economy. We’re having the courts, and prisons and police and all that work, and it’s not really producing the social good that we think it should produce.”
The medical officer of health’s report says that, based on current rates, there will be some 59,000 charges and 22,000 convictions for simple possession before cannabis is legalized in Canada.
Also Monday, a police watchdog group criticized the Toronto Police Services Board for refusing to debate pot at its meeting last month.
The Toronto Police Accountability Coalition wrote to the board suggesting the “simple remedy” during this period of limbo is for police to exercise discretion when deciding whether to arrest someone for possessing pot in an amount of less than 30 grams.
This is the “important public policing issue” the board “should be taking a leadership position on, instead of refusing to even to discuss it. The public deserves a public forum on this issue and that forum is the Police Services Board.”
TPAC estimates about 5,000 people are charged with possession of marijuana a year in Toronto.
“We continue to enforce the law as it stands,” TPS spokeswoman Meaghan Gray wrote in email. She couldn’t confirm possession-related statistics, but said 5,000 was “about right” for the period between 2003 and 2013.
Click here to read the report from the Medical Officer of Health, “Legal Access to Non-Medical Cannabis: Approaches to Protect Health and Minimize Harms of Use”