KELOWNA - A local lawyer who specializes in drug cases says news that Kelowna has the highest rate in Canada for charges laid for simple pot possession shows bad judgement by local RCMP.
Stanley Tessmer has practiced criminal law in Kelowna since 1997 and one of his areas of expertise is in drug cases.
“It certainly doesn’t seem like time well spent. I’d rather have them concentrate on the guy who did the break-and-enter that someone who went outside for a puff,” he says. “I appreciate it’s more difficult to catch the guy who did the break-and-enter but there’s much more of a sense of a breach of personal security with that type of crime. Simple pot possession is low hanging fruit.”
CBC news crunched StatsCan data from 2014 and found it consistent with 2013 data that Kelowna leads the country in the number of marijuana possession charges its police lay per capita - 250.51 per 100,000 residents over the age of 12 — more than three times the average across Canada of 79.27.
After Kelowna, Gatineau, Que. has the next highest rate of 187.71 while at the opposite end of the scale only 11.6 charges per 100,000 were laid in St. John’s, Nfld.
No other B.C. community even makes the list except Vancouver (48.7) Victoria (40.61) and Abbotsford (37.28). It does not contain data for Kamloops, Vernon or Penticton.
A StatsCan report from 2013, although not a direct comparison, shows a similar situation; Kelowna leading the pack with the highest rate of pot charges.
Kelowna RCMP superintendent Nick Romanchuk did not respond to a request for an interview.
While the age and gender of the people facing possession charges is not contained within the report, Tessmer says he doubts you would find many older Kelowna residents on the list.
“It’s not your or I having a toke in our homes. It’s the kids on the street, they are young, less likely to fight the charges in court,” he says. "They have no money and legal aid isn’t going to help them because they aren’t facing jail. And they are less likely to know their rights when they are confronted.”
Many will also plead guilty, he says, without thinking through the consequences, which can include barriers to some kinds of employment and difficulty travelling to the United States.
Tessmer says he would support a resolution from Kelowna city council directing RCMP to make pot possession a low priority.
“Romanchuk should be saying 'Let’s show the public out there police are trying to keep you safe' instead of going after you for having a puff,” he says.
He is unabashed about voting against the Conservative Party and its get-tough-on-crime agenda, which includes mandatory minimum sentences for some drug crimes.
“The RCMP are a federal police force that march to Harper’s drum beat and he’s not shown any signs of lightening up on the war on drugs,” he says. “I implore everyone to get out and vote and I recommend they don’t vote for Harper.”
Tessmer said other jurisdictions have tried and failed to end recreational drug use with legislation and stiff penalties.
“The Americans tried tough sentences and it failed and now they are coming back around. We are 10 to 20 years behind the times here.”
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