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Canadian Police Chiefs Organization Calls
for Marijuana Decriminalization


Summer 1999

The board of directors of the Association of Canadian Police Chiefs (CACP) reportedly advocated decriminalization of "small quantities of all illegal narcotics, including heroin." However, the CACP immediately clarified its position as not in support of decriminalization of narcotics, such as cocaine and heroin, but in support of marijuana decriminalization. It added that it does not support marijuana legalization. The comments have sparked a debate over decriminalization of marijuana in Canada (Robert Fife, "Police Chiefs Want Possession of all Narcotics Decriminalized," National Post (Canada), April 21, 1999, p. A1; Mark Dunn, "Cops Stir Up The Great Pot Debate," Ottawa Sun, April 22, 1999; Tonda MacCharles "Police Chiefs Urge Move To Decriminalize `Pot'," Toronto Star, April 22, 1999; Bernard Pilon and Ian McDougal, "Chiefs Push Ticket, Not Record, As Pot Penalty," Edmonton Sun, April 22, 1999).

Despite the clarification, some police organizations in Canada opposed CACP's support for marijuana decriminalization. The Toronto Police Association said it is opposes marijuana decriminalization, citing its belief in marijuana as a gateway to the use of "harder" drugs ("Keep Marijuana Law, Union Says," Toronto Star, April 30, 1999).

The CACP's comments received support in important quarters. Justice Minister Anne McLellan said, "They are a very influential voice in terms of the credibility they have with the public and with government in terms of how some of these issues are evolving on the streets." The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) added their support for the proposal (Jim Bronskill, "RCMP Supports Call to Relax Pot Laws," Calgary Herald, May 1, 1999).

On April 26, Dr. Keith Martin, a member of Parliament, presented a private member's bill supporting decriminalization. One purpose of the bill was to challenge Minister McLellan to review the issue immediately. McLellan said she will review the proposal after a formal meeting with the police chiefs in August (Mike Dunn, "Marijuana Bill Tabled," Calgary Sun, April 27, 1999).

On June 11, Senator Pierre Claude Nolin called for the creation of a special Senate committee to examine Canada's anti-drug legislation and policies. The committee would "consult the Canadian public to determine the needs of various regions of the country where social problems associated with the traffic and use of illegal drugs is more in evidence" (Press Release, Honourable Pierre Claude Nolin, June 11, 1999).

The Chief of Police in Calgary, Alberta, Christine Silverberg, said the CACP's position on marijuana decriminalization was not that of the whole association, but only a position paper by the board of directors. She asserted that "all of Canada's police chiefs will determine the association's ultimate position" (Frank King, "Chief Opposes Legalization Of Marijuana," Calgary Herald, April 28, 1999).

Ontario's political leaders made their positions on the issue known. Mike Harris, the Provincial Premier and member of the Progressive Conservative Party, denounced any attempt to decriminalize marijuana, adding he has never consumed the substance. Harris criticized the police chiefs, saying, "normally I agree with the chiefs of police, but on this one I feel they are throwing in the towel." Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty and New Democratic Party (NDP) Leader Howard Hampton each proclaimed their support for decriminalization, and admitted using marijuana when they were much younger (Caroline Mallan, "Party Leaders Come Clean On Pot," Toronto Star, April 28, 1999, p. A7).

A report issued in March 1999 by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics said Canada-wide arrests related to marijuana were on the rise, from 33,267 in 1991 to 47,908 in 1997. Approximately two thirds of these arrests were for simple possession. The penalty for possession carries a fine of up to $2000 (Canadian) and jail time of up to 6 months, in addition to a criminal record. If marijuana were decriminalized under the suggested plans, there would be only a small fine and no criminal record, similar to a traffic violation (Elaine Carey, "Pot Charges On The Rise," Toronto Star, March 10, 1999, p. A2).

Chief Barry King, spokesperson for the Association of Canadian Police Chiefs (CACP) - Tel: (613) 342-0127, ext. 4222. CACP - 130 rue Albert St., Suite 1710, Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5G4 CANADA, Tel: (613) 233-1106, Fax: (613) 233-6960, E-mail: <>, Web: <>.

Hon. Senator Pierre Claude Nolin - The Senate of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A4, CANADA, Tel: (613) 943-1451, Email: <>.

Hon. Anne McLellan, Minister of Justice - The Department of Justice of Canada, 284 Wellington Street, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0H8, CANADA, Tel: (613) 957-4222.

Premier Mike Harris, Premier of Ontario - Room 218, Legislative Building, Queen's Park, Toronto, Ontario, CANADA, M7A 1A1, Tel: (416) 325-1941.

Dr. Keith Martin, MP - Room 676, Confederation Building, House of Commons, Ottawa, Ontario, CANADA, K1A 0A6, Phone: (613) 996-2625 Fax: (613) 996-9779.

Dalton McGuinty, MPP - Room 325, Legislative Building, Queen's Park, Toronto, Ontario, CANADA, M7A 1A4, Tel: (416) 325-7155 Fax: (416) 325-9895.

Howard Hampton, MPP - Room 381, East Wing, Legislative Building, Queen's Park, Toronto, Ontario, CANADA, M7A 1A5, Tel: (416) 325-8300.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) - 1200 Vanier Pkwy., Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0R2, CANADA, Tel: (613) 993-5281.

Chief Christine Silverberg - 133 6th Ave. SE, Calgary, Alberta, CANADA, T2G-4Z1, Tel: (403) 266-1234.

Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics - Statistics Canada, R.H. Coats Building, Lobby, Holland Ave., Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0T6, CANADA, Tel: (800) 263-1136 or (613) 951-8116, Fax: (613) 951-0581, E-mail: <>, Web: <>.