Criminal Law

Track cannabis charges to ensure certain groups aren't being targeted

By Staff

Policing of new cannabis laws must be tracked to protect historically marginalized communities, Toronto criminal lawyer Caryma Sa’d tells

Although recreational use of the drug is now legal, Sa’d, founder and principal of SADVOCACY Professional Corporation, says it’s important not to forget that criminal offences related to cannabis remain in the Criminal Code.

In fact, the Winnipeg Free Press reports that illegal possession cases are already turning up in court, just months into the new legal regime, with about a dozen Manitobans charged under the federal Cannabis Act. According to the newspaper, no national statistics are available yet, but Sa’d says vigilance is vital.

She points out that the Act creates specific possession charges applicable to minors but not to adults.

“Historically, the way cannabis has been policed has meant that youth who were marginalized in various ways, whether due to race, socio-economic status, and/or living in a ‘rough’ area, were more likely to encounter police,” Sa’d says. “And where police spend more time looking for something in certain places, they are more likely to find it.

“One of the stated objectives of the legislation is controlling access to the drug to ensure youth safety. In my view, it’s counterproductive if the law operates to enmesh youth in the criminal justice system,” she adds.

In addition, Sa’d says there’s a danger that medical or habitual cannabis users could find themselves unfairly targeted by the new impaired driving legislation that passed in tandem with the legalization of the drug.

Bill C-46 created three new offences for drivers with certain levels of particular drugs in their system within two hours of driving and allows police to demand saliva samples from those suspected of operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs.

Sa’d was one of the signatories to a letter that warned of the dangers of criminalizing very small levels of THC — the active ingredient in cannabis — in the blood of drivers.

While breathalyzers offer a very accurate reflection of the level of alcohol in a person’s bloodstream, and how it is likely to affect them, she explains that metabolites of THC have been shown to linger in blood samples long after use, and at levels that differ on an individual basis.

Medical marijuana users are among the most likely to retain THC in blood samples, potentially for days after use, at levels above the legal limit set by Bill C-46 — two nanograms per millilitre of blood — raising questions about their rights under s. 7 of the Charter.

“Legalization wouldn’t have happened without the medical cannabis community, so for them to be made more legally vulnerable is very concerning,” Sa’d says. “For some patients, they may actually be more dangerous on the road if they’re not medicated.”

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