Canada’s weed arrests after legalization

Published Feb 26, 2019 11:10 a.m. ET

Since marijuana legalization became legalized on October 17th, you’d think that Canada would see fewer arrests and crime rates associated with cannabis. It’s legal to possess and to grow across most of the country, and yet many of the statistics rolling in don’t show much of a decrease in pot-related crimes. Why is that, and what are people still being arrested for? There are a few different sections of the population that are still being charged and arrested.


Black market dispensaries have been targeted by the Canadian government ever since the announcement of a planned marijuana legalization date was made to the public. Even those that serviced strictly medical patients have received harsh repercussions for continuing to stay in business despite numerous warnings of their imminent demise. Since the government of Canada has put the onus on the individual provinces to regulate and or restrict the cannabis industry, there are still thousands of residents that have no access to a legal storefront to purchase the now entirely legal substance. These dispensaries helped to provide a service to the public that is in high demand with cities like Hamilton, Ontario managing one bustling illegal dispensary for every city block. Since licensing has been granted based on a random lottery system rather than qualifications, many of the most significant players have been given no opportunity to gain a legal status leading to arrests across the country. Workers and customers are caught in the crossfires of full-blown police raids. According to Statistics Canada, there have been well over 100 illegal dispensaries raided in the last year with the average one resulting in charges of at least four individuals which are sometimes unsuspecting customers.

Street dealers

Black market street dealer arrests are also on the rise with a 10% increase in charges associated with the sale or intent to sell pot. Since marijuana use has kept a steady pace even since legalization there have been a large number of these dealers that are still open for business and being charged for doing so.  



Customers are often overlooked victims of this war on drugs. Though they do tend to receive more leniency then vendors are afforded, there have been hundreds of individuals who have been charged for simply buying cannabis. One raid in London Ontario saw 16 customers charged, and their purchases confiscated. Though it appears at least for now that most police officers will not lay charges if a person is found holding cannabis that has been obtained from an unknown or illegal source. This has led to a dramatic decrease in possession charges (90%). Despite that, there are still many innocent customers in search of relief who are being charged for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.


This is one other instance where crime rates have slightly gone down, but only time will tell if that will last. Right now, most provinces have specific requirements that can differ greatly from one region to another making it difficult for long-distance travelers to predict or plan for how they are supposed to be storing their green. Some places like Quebec do not allow any kind of open cannabis in a vehicle even if it is stored away out of reach. This has led to a completely new type of charge related to possession which is like that of our current open alcohol laws. Since these so-called crimes are so very new, there is no prior data to refer to as a measurement of progress over time, but we do know that they add to the overall total of marijuana-related offences in Canada. This is expected to change for the worse as new methods of testing are designed to catch drivers that are just not reliable enough to assess a person’s intoxication levels in any meaningful way.


With more than half of all drug-based crimes in Canada still being marijuana-related, there doesn’t appear to be much hope for change on the horizon. Though our old personal possession laws have been thrown out, they have been replaced with new ones that affect almost as many people as the old ones did. Unfortunately, the prison incarceration rates the government is insisting on keeping is still hurting many innocent Canadians, many of which helped to fight for the change so many are currently enjoying. Will the country change its views in a less draconian fashion that will truly help its citizens? Only time can tell for sure, but for now, the narrative remains the same. There are still far too many people being punished for cannabis related crimes in a country that claims that the plant is now entirely legal.



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