Tories reverse Liberal pot policy
Police chiefs welcome tough stance
Apr. 3, 2006
Brian Fitzpatrick has openly used marijuana for
years to control his epilepsy, and police have
never bothered him.
All that has changed.
Police forces across the GTA (Greater Toronto
area), taking their cue from the new federal
Conservative government, are again cracking down
on the simple possession of marijuana.
Before the Liberals lost the January election,
legislation was in the works to make possession of
small amounts of pot a minor offence, much like a
parking ticket. That prompted police forces to
ease up on marijuana users.
But things are different today, and Fitzpatrick,
is caught in the middle.
law professor Alan Young says such pot busts have
increased over the past months, with word that the
Conservative government won't resurrect Liberal
efforts to decriminalize simple possession of
Fitzpatrick's legal problems began March 26, as he
felt a seizure coming on. He called an ambulance,
and began self-medicating with cannabis-based
Ambulance workers at his home noticed the potent
butter, called police, and soon Fitzpatrick's
cannabis stock was gone and he was looking for a
The former Liberal government talked of
decriminalizing possession of small amounts of
pot, treating possession of less than 15 grams of
pot as a minor offence punishable by fines of $100
"I seem to be getting more calls from people
who've been arrested for simple possession," Young
"They're (police) trying to flex their muscles and
say the law's still vibrant," Young said.
Peel criminal lawyer Gary Batasar agreed that
police seem to be taking a get-tough approach to
all pot crimes, including simple possession.
"There's no doubt that they're not being let off
with too much," Batasar said.
Their comments this week came three weeks after a
spokesman for Justice Minister Vic Toews announced
that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Tories have
no plans to loosen marijuana laws.
"It's a green light for police to go ahead with
stricter law enforcement, if they so want," Young
said. "They're doing it with much more vigour than
before, no doubt about it."
"They're charging more people and they're more
proactive on the grow-ops," Young continued.
"They've done a real campaign to show grow-ops as
the 11th Biblical plague."
Toews' spokesman, Mike Storeshaw, said earlier
this month it was clear during the election race
that the party had no intention of moving forward
on the decriminalization bill.
Meanwhile, local police chiefs say they were
against decriminalization of marijuana before the
Tories took power, and they feel the same way now.
"I don't anticipate that our organization will
change its approach," said York Regional Police
Chief Armand La Barge.
"We continue to enforce it ... Our approach has
been consistent throughout."
La Barge said he welcomed the announcement from
Toews' office that simple possession won't be
decriminalized in the new future.
"That's something that I was particularly happy to
La Barge said relaxing drug laws sends the wrong
message to the public, and that York police have
been "waging a war" for some time against
marijuana grow operations in houses, run by
organized crime groups.
Marijuana grown in York Region, in "nice suburban
homes," is routinely exported to the
and swapped for guns and other drugs, La Barge
"They are multi-million-dollar criminal
operations," La Barge said.
police Chief Vernon White said he doubts any
police chief in the country wants youths to have
criminal records for a first case of possession of
a small amount of marijuana.
Most convictions for possession of marijuana today
began with charges of possession for the purposes
of trafficking, and then were reduced because of a
guilty plea, White said.
"The reality is very few people these days are
charged with simple possession of marijuana,"
However, he said that many adults don't realize
that pot today is often up to six times more
potent than during the 1970s and early 1980s.
"It's not the same drug that's around today as in
1980," White said, adding that there's a
disturbing new practice on the West Coast of
spraying marijuana with highly potent and
addictive crystal meth.
pot activist Mark Stupak said he and fellow
marijuana activists are in a daze about what's
going on with enforcement of pot laws, after the
federal government change.
"Everybody's confused, basically," he said.
Stupak said police seem to be clamping down on
marijuana seed operations, noting the bust of the
Heaven's Stairway company in
Ottawa, which has
operated openly since 1998 and is listed on
Heaven's Stairway sold marijuana seeds over the
Internet, and until recently, seed distributors
have functioned in a "cloud of legality," Stupak
said, but that seems to be changing.
On the West Coast, Marc Emery, described as the
"King of Pot" and founder of the B.C. Marijuana
Party, is battling extradition — and the threat of
decades in prison — for charges of conspiring to
manufacture and distribute marijuana seeds and to
engage in money laundering.
marijuana activists say many local seed sellers
have stopped shipping to the
for fear of being charged like Emery.
Meanwhile, Fitzgerald said he has lost his
appetite, as he worries about more epileptic
seizures, the loss of his pot and the stress of
his court case on May 5.
"I've never felt this way before in my life,"
With files from The Star's Tonda MacCharles.