Canada’s federal Cannabis Act legalizes and regulates the possession and sale of marijuana for anyone 18 and above. But the federal law also gives the country’s provincial governments the authority to add their own rules, so long as they’re not more permissive. As a result, some provinces implemented higher age requirements for possessing cannabis, restricted or outright banned private retailers and set limits on public consumption.
In Ontario, for example, Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative party, elected just ahead of Canada’s October implementation of the Cannabis Act, implemented rules making the province one of the most restrictive in the country. And those rules are keeping police busy. According to a recent report, Ontario Police have been writing on average 21 tickets for cannabis each day since legalization took effect last October.
Ontario Police Are Busting People for Having Legal Weed
On average, Police in Ontario write 21 tickets per day for cannabis-related offenses. In total, police have written 1,652 tickets from October 17, 2018 though January 3, 2019. The tickets don’t come with jail time. But they are costly, ranging anywhere from a couple to several hundred dollars. Technically, however, fines can reach as high as $100,000, according to one source.
Provincial data shows that the majority of the tickets, 63 percent, were issued to drivers who possessed cannabis in the cabin of their vehicle. Ontario’s strict “zero-tolerance” policy for drug-impaired driving makes it an offense merely to have cannabis with you when you drive. If it’s a baggie of flower, a pre-roll or anything else—even a new purchase, even if you aren’t smoking or vaping it—it’s illegal to have it inside your vehicle. “Basically, if you have cannabis in your vehicle, it should be in the trunk,” said Toronto-based lawyer Jack Lloyd.
Other common charges were for the unlawful sale of cannabis or owning/operating a building where unlicensed retailers are selling cannabis. Ontario — Toronto in particular — has an extensive network of unlicensed, unregulated cannabis dispensaries. Post-legalization, police have the task of driving them out and shutting them down.
Do Vehicle Busts Actually Prevent Drug-Impaired Driving?
Needless to say, those receiving tickets are feeling frustrated over facing fines for an ostensibly legal activity. Ontario enacted its rules on cannabis and driving to prevent a feared uptick in drug-impaired driving. But critics say all the tickets for merely possessing cannabis in a vehicle have nothing to do with making roads safer. “It’s completely arbitrary, and it’s not rationally connected to purpose of the legislation, which is to prevent impaired driving,” said Lloyd.
Indeed, Canadian officers have so far reported no spike in impaired driving after cannabis legalization. In fact, early police data shows that as far as traffic safety goes, not much is different after legalization in Canada. Across Canada, most cannabis and driving offenses are for improper storage or passenger consumption. When it comes to impaired driving, alcohol continues to be the most common reason police arrest drivers.
In Lloyds view, these 21 tickets per day for cannabis are a sign that police have nothing better to do. “There’s less crime, so the police have less to do,” he said. “It’s easier for them to focus on cannabis.”
And the more bored the police, the more they seem to be seeking out the smell of cannabis to see who has it. Data shows that there are fairly large differences in ticketing based on region in Ontario. In the suburbs, like York and Durham, police ticketed 107 teens for underage cannabis possession. In Toronto, police only ticketed 57 teens for the same offense.
Ontario Residents Are Starting to Challenge Cannabis Tickets in Court
Fortunately, people are sharing their stories online. And so far, the best advice seems to be to fight the ticket in court. Challenging the ticket can see the fine reduced or eliminated entirely. As Lloyd explained, the situation is a lot like parking or speeding tickets. The system can handle it only if a small fraction of people appeal. If everyone police ticketed for weed demanded their day in court, it would completely overwhelm the system.