Many arguments are made in favour of legalizing marijuana. But by far the most compelling is the potential impact on the criminal justice system. The sheer number of Canadians who are busted for possession, trafficking, production and distribution of the leafy green plant—more than 160 per every 100,000 people—dwarfs that for any other drug, including far more problematic substances like cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that the enforcement of marijuana laws has been responsible for the overwhelming majority of drug arrests, about 75 per cent of all reported drug crime,” says Neil Boyd, a professor of criminology at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C.
Boyd adds that legalizing pot would immediately allow police to focus limited resources on more “worthwhile” endeavours. It could also lead to a reduction in other types of crime that are related to marijuana, including rip-offs of marijuana grow ops or potentially violent conflicts between buyers and sellers. “You can’t currently take a dishonest marijuana distributor to court or call the Better Business [Bureau] to complain,” Boyd says.
Legalization could even reduce the country’s overall crime rate, since roughly three per cent of all current Criminal Code incidents are related to pot. However, any decrease would likely be offset by an increase in other types of infractions as police focus their attention on more serious criminal activity—one of very few instances where a jump in crime statistics could be celebrated as a good thing.