Pot Fines Not So Fine 

Pot Fines Not So Fine 
Posted by CN Staff on September 12, 2003 at 20:20:32 PT
By Jenny Buac, Managing Editor 
Source: Silhouette 
Although the Ontario government has been dismissing a large number of drug possession cases for some time, students caught using marijuana at McMaster are being fined $130. According to Tim Meehan, Communications Director for Ontario Consumers for Safe Access to Recreational Cannabis, the fact that the provincial court has been virtually ignoring the issue of drug possession, even though it is listed in the Criminal Code of Canada, implies pot use is no longer illegal in Ontario. 
For Meehan, this means that, “cannabis is no more illegal in Ontario than possessing Cheerios or Pepsi.” Said Meehan, “police forces across the province are no longer pursuing cannabis possession charges… while some police forces have said that they will still seize and document cases where they come across cannabis in the hope that it might someday be ruled illegal again, they have no legal basis for doing so.” The Canadian Controlled Drug and Substance Act, which says possession of marijuana is illegal, is still the law today regardless of the way the provincial government treats these cases. As drug use became prevalent on the McMaster campus, the issue of providing consequences for it became prominent. Due to the Hamilton Police Service’s dismissal of many on-campus cases, McMaster decided to take action and address the issue through its Student Code of Conduct. “Drugs have just actually become active on campus in the last two years,” said Cathy O’Donnell of McMaster Security Services. “Eight years ago, we didn’t have known drug use on campus… I think we were dealing with the situation as it came up.” The increasing number of incidences involving drugs prompted Student Affairs to come up with a way to let students know that drug use on campus was unacceptable. “What we were finding was that, when students were caught with small amounts of marijuana, [McMaster] security would write a report and it would be sent to Hamilton [Police Services],” said Academic Integrity Officer Andrea Thyret-Kidd, formerly of Judicial Affairs. “Because it was a criminal offence, no Crown Attorney was going to process it so very little happened to the student on campus. “But what was happening if you were caught drinking underage or if you were being caught drinking in a public place, security was able to give a Provincial Offence Notice, which has a fine attached to it. “So, we were finding that we felt it was really unfair that these things were both illegal but if students were caught drinking in a public place there was a fine of about $130 given to them. If students were found smoking marijuana, nothing was happening, so the university implemented a fine within its own policy to make it equivalent.” Although this fine has brought the repercussions of drinking and smoking pot on campus to an equal monetary amount of about $130, the two issues are dealt with in very different ways. “If you’re walking around with a bottle of beer, the provincial government has a law that says that’s a $130 fine so we [McMaster Peace Officers] issue that provincial ticket right then,” said O’Donnell. “If you have drugs, that’s the Criminal Code—that’s the federal government. We will arrest under the Criminal Code. “The Student Code of Conduct has a violation that says you can’t have it on campus. The Student Code of Conduct may fine you $130 and then make note of that $130. If we have enough evidence to proceed criminally, we will.” Meehan feels that the university’s issuing of fines is inappropriate and infringes on students’ rights as individuals. “These fines strike me, as someone who takes civil liberties and our Charter rights very seriously, as no different than sanctioning people for being gay on campus, dating someone of another race on campus, or if you want to talk drugs, taking an Advil on campus,” said Meehan. “It’s a disgusting attempt at moral entrepreneurship that the university has no business engaging in.” “The issues for the university are this: we don’t condone smoking marijuana—it’s in our Student Code of Conduct,” said Phil Wood, McMaster’s associate vice-president student affairs. “The second thing is, how do we punish this violation of our code of conduct? It got to the point where we weren’t able to deal with it as effectively as we were alcohol. “We don’t really like collecting the fine. If you’re breaking a law, you should deal with authorities in that way. Because we’re an educational institution, we would rather handle it another way instead of fining people… we either had to change the code or we had to make the punishment in line with similar, in our view, offences.” Wood noted that, ultimately, “the student, or anyone, is subject to the laws of the land but also on the campus you are subject to the laws of a student code of conduct.” In the 2002–03 school year, there were 31 cases reported. The money collected from the fines was put toward other ways of spreading the anti-drug message to students. One such effort is a poster campaign entitled “Is it Worth the Price?” which emphasized the fines associated with violating the provincial alcohol law and the campus drug policies. Despite talk of amending federal drug laws, no changes have been made. Should it be passed, the Cannabis Reform Bill, which was tabled in the House of Commons in late May 2003, would keep cannabis possession illegal under the Canadian Controlled Drugs and Substance Act but soften the penalties for possession of smaller amounts of marijuana and toughen penalties for growers of marijuana. McMaster’s fine for possession of marijuana on campus has been in place for the last year and is expected to remain unchanged until further notice from the government. Note: McMaster University's Student Newspaper.Source: The Silhouette (Hamilton, ON)Author: Jenny Buac, Managing Editor Published: September 11, 2003 - Volume 74, Issue 4Copyright: 2003 The Silhouette, McMaster Students UnionContact: thesil Website: -- Canada Archives
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