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Cannabis Charges Decline in Canada, But Montreal Bucks Trend

July 26, 2017

Cannabis-related charges across Canada have continued to drop since peaking in 2011, according to CBC News, but not every part of the country has enjoyed that decline. During the same period, cannabis-related charges in some regions actually climbed.

There were 17,700 people older than 12 charged in Canada in 2016 for a cannabis-related crime, according to police data released by Statistics Canada. That number was down considerably from 2015, when police charged 21,300 people.

Across the country, possession charges have seen the sharpest decline. After 2010, possession charges per year have dropped by more than 10,000. Charges for importation and exportation of cannabis, and for its production, have all remained relatively flat stretching back to before 2000.

The decline in possession arrests hasn’t been felt in places like Quebec. Cities such as Montreal and several others in the province have actually seen charges for possession steadily increase since 1998. Rates have stayed relatively the same since 2015.

Eric Sutton, a criminal defense lawyer in Montreal, told the CBC that he’s noticed that concerns about cannabis being aired in Quebec media more than elsewhere in the country.

“In Quebec, there has been a fairly hot debate, and that may have had an effect on policing and the attitude of prosecutors,” Sutton told the CBC. “Legalizing something doesn’t mean it’s good. It’s a legal decision, not a moral decision.”

The CBC reports that in 2016, an average of 73 per 100,000 Montreal residents were charged for cannabis possession. For Quebec as a whole, the rate was 76 people per 100,000. The national rate in Canada was 56 per 100,000.

Marc-Boris St-Marurice, a longtime advocate of legalization in Montreal who also heads the Montreal Compassion Centre, called the news disappointing.

“It would be nice if there could be a bit more tolerance towards people who are using marijuana, given that legalization is just around the corner,” St-Maurice said.

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Gage Peake

Gage Peake is a former staff writer for Leafly, where he specialized in data journalism, sports, and breaking news coverage. He's a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's College of Journalism and Mass Communications.

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