Majority of Hamilton Possession Charges Thrown Out By Courts

Despite police charges for cannabis possession in Hamilton rising 154 per cent since 2006, most of those charges were dropped by the court system.

The police and court system appear to be out of sync – of 455 possession charges last year, the courts attempted to divert more than 80 per cent of them.

Hamilton police say they are just following the law as written and have a duty to enforce it. Police say they don’t monitor how many of those charges end in conviction.

Critics say this type of scattershot approach to enforcement is a waste of time and resources.

“We should be asking questions about whether it serves public safety to arrest or charge these people at all,” said Canadian Civil Liberties Association acting program director Laura Berger. “Criminalizing very low-level drug offences can have even more of an adverse effect on overly marginalized communities.”

Hamilton lawyer Beth Bromberg said so few marijuana charges go to trial that if anyone charged with under 30 g of cannabis tries to retain her services, she tells them not to bother.

Instead of being charged, the majority of marijuana cases are diverted by judges, sending the accused to an “accountability program,” where they asked to make a charitable donation, take a drug prevention class or participate in community service. If they follow through, the accused leave with no criminal record and the charges are withdrawn.

The John Howard Society, which runs the program, doesn’t think it makes sense to charge so many with drug offences in the first place.

“For small amounts of marijuana, we should be looking at alternative ways of managing that,” said John Howard Society executive director David Lane. “It doesn’t have to go through the courts at all.”

There have been 156 possession charges referred to the John Howard Society so far in 2015.

Police in Hamilton said they have no intention to stop pressing charges for possession, even as the federal government moves toward legalization.

“Marijuana is illegal. Citizens have made it very clear they do not want illegal drugs in their neighbourhoods and continue to connect with Hamilton Police to report and provide information on illegal drug activity,” said Hamilton Vice and Drug unit Det. Sgt. Paul Downey.

An Ipsos poll in August found 65 per cent of Canadians support decriminalization, and a November study from Forum Research pegged the 59 per cent of Canadians approve of the legalization and regulation of marijuana.