Reasonable Doubt: Has B.C.'s law enforcement gone to pot?
Nancy Seto is one of the writers of this Q&A column.
By Nancy Seto, July 15, 2011
Welcome to this week's pot-themed column. B.C. has a reputation for its marijuana trade and lenient law enforcement when it comes to simple possession. This week, we received several questions about what response can be expected from the criminal justice system when it comes to marijuana:
• I always thought that it wasn't a big deal to smoke a joint out in public here in the Lower Mainland. There are always lots of people smoking weed out in public, especially in the summer on the beach, for example. A few weeks ago, a friend of mine was hassled by the police for smoking a joint. I didn't think that happened anymore.
• What would happen if I just grew one pot plant? Would I get into a lot of trouble?
The short answer to these questions is that possession and production of marijuana, no matter what amount, is illegal. When you're talking about one joint, a very small quantity of marijuana or one marijuana plant, the criminal justice system is usually pretty lenient (if you have no criminal record and there is no indication that you possessed that marijuana for the purpose of trafficking).
When it comes to what the police do in response to a person having marijuana, it totally depends on the circumstances and the discretion of each individual police officer. Some officers might let it slide, others may simply confiscate your marijuana. Others may use it as a reason to search you and your things to see if you have any other drugs. Some may arrest you for possession in the case of a joint or dried marijuana; some may arrest you for production of a controlled substance if you have one pot plant. Police officers may do any, all, or a combination of the above. It totally depends.
There are other consequences for being found with marijuana by the police. Each time the police interact with a citizen, they create an entry on their computer system called PRIME. That entry can and will be accessed by numerous other police agencies across B.C. Even if no criminal charges ever result from your initial run-in with the police over that small amount of marijuana, any officer in the future who searches your name will see that you had a previous interaction with the police and that you're known to have drugs on your person. This will shape how the police view and deal with you in the future.
If the police arrest you for possession or production, it is still up to Crown counsel whether or not to approve the charges against you. If the police are only recommending simple possession or production charges, a Crown prosecutor must look at your file according to their charge approval standard. First, the prosecutor must ask whether there is a likelihood of conviction. Second, the prosecutor must ask whether it would be in the public interest to proceed with charges. Based on all the circumstances, it is Crown's discretion whether to approve the charge or not.
If charges are approved, then you are in the criminal justice system and you will have to work your way through it until your matter results in an acquittal, a stay of proceedings, or a conviction. Any of these results will have further effects on your life. If you are convicted or you plead guilty, there is a range of sentences available to a sentencing judge. If you have no record and you are convicted of simple possession of a small amount of marijuana or production of one plant, you may be eligible for sentences that will ultimately result in you not having a criminal record. Even if that happened, you may have issues with criminal record checks or with future employment. Furthermore, American customs has access to Canadian criminal justice system information. Once they see that you've been convicted of a drug offence, it will most likely be difficult if not near impossible for you to cross the border.
These are some of the potential difficulties that may arise from possessing or producing even small amounts of marijuana. So the choice is yours in whether or not you want to incur any of these risks.
Reasonable Doubt appears on Straight.com on Fridays. The column's writers, Laurel Dietz and Nancy Seto, are criminal defence lawyers at Cobb St. Pierre Lewis. You can send your questions for the column to them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A word of caution: Don't take this column as personal legal advice, because it's not. It is intended for general information and entertainment purposes only.