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Illegal cannabis possession cases starting to show up in Manitoba courts

John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press Files</p><p>Cases of illegal possession of cannabis are beginning to show up in Manitoba courts less than three months after the drug became legal in Canada.</p>

John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press Files

Cases of illegal possession of cannabis are beginning to show up in Manitoba courts less than three months after the drug became legal in Canada.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/1/2019 (383 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Less than three months after recreational cannabis became legal in Canada, cases of illegal possession of the drug are trickling into Manitoba courts.

Federal prosecutors are handling about a dozen cases of Manitobans criminally charged under the recent federal Cannabis Act, but there isn't yet any national data showing how the legislation is being enforced.

RCMP say Manitobans are most commonly being ticketed for improperly transporting cannabis in their vehicles, along with other provincial-law infractions that are no longer criminal.

Between Oct. 17 and Dec. 14, 2018, 10 people were charged in 11 criminal cases for alleged violations of the federal cannabis laws, according to Manitoba's federal prosecutors office. All of those charges are for illegal possession of cannabis: four for possession for the purpose of sale; four for possession for the purpose of distribution; three for possession of cannabis known to be illicit.

Most of the charges arose from Winnipeg; three were out of Thompson and one was out of Brandon.

In addition to those 11 cases, court documents from Winnipeg show there were at least two other criminal charges laid in late December for possession of cannabis for distribution.

While there can be a lag time between police laying charges and those charges making their way to prosecutors, Manitoba's acting chief federal prosecutor said those numbers show a "significant drop" compared with marijuana-related caseloads prior to legalization, even for cannabis offences that remain illegal, such as grow operations.

"The file counts that we have reflect a greatly reduced number of marijuana charges in the province," Michael Foote said, noting all of the Cannabis Act charges laid in Manitoba were laid alongside allegations of other criminal offences, which indicates police aren't targeting cannabis users.

RCMP in Manitoba have laid 13 criminal charges under the federal Cannabis Act, and they've issued 37 tickets for violations punishable by fine under provincial law — usually for minors caught consuming cannabis or for drivers who failed to store their cannabis in the cargo area of their vehicle, according to information provided by the RCMP.

Within Winnipeg city limits, there is no data on Cannabis Act charges or tickets issued. The Winnipeg Police Service says it doesn't track cannabis-related charges.

Neither police force has noted an increase or a decrease in officers' workloads after cannabis legalization.

RCMP Sgt. Mark Hume, unit commander for Manitoba west traffic services, said drivers are usually ticketed for cannabis-related violations when they're pulled over for speeding or not wearing seatbelts. Because of the drug's odour, it's "pretty simple" for police to detect, he said.

"Some of the confusion that we’re getting from the public is transportation of cannabis in a vehicle," Hume said. "It has to be in the cargo area... A lot of people aren’t realizing that and they’re carrying it in the glove compartment or the centre console, and you’ll get a ticket for that."

RCMP are also advising people to keep receipts or excise stamps for their recreational cannabis in case they find themselves in a situation where there's a question about whether the cannabis in their possession was illegally obtained.

Federal prosecutors haven't seen any post-legalization charges for growing cannabis in Manitoba, Foote said.

"It used to be that we had significant numbers of grow-op files, for example. Lots and lots of those. And looking here, we don’t have any cultivation charges, which tells me that either they’re not happening, no one’s doing that anymore, or the police simply aren’t investigating them" in ways that have already led to charges.

It's too early to spot trends in post-legalization grow-operation charges, Hume said. While federal law allows users to grow four plants, Manitoba has prohibited any homegrown cannabis.

"It’s not legal to grow it at home in Manitoba, but to my knowledge we haven’t received many of those complaints, if any," he said.

"If we find out someone’s growing at home, absolutely we’re going to do an investigation just like we would before — get a search warrant, search the house, no different than we would have before, because people can’t grow it at home."

RCMP in Manitoba haven't been receiving many cannabis-related complaints at all — apart from teachers discovering the drug in high schools, which was happening long before recreational use was legalized for adults, Hume said.



Twitter: @thatkatiemay

Katie May

Katie May
Justice reporter

Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.

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