Vancouver police issued 51 cannabis-related driving tickets in the 12 weeks following the legalization of recreational cannabis, most to people not keeping their pot in its original, sealed packaging or out of reach of drivers and passengers.
The tickets were handed out between Oct. 17 last year, the day the federal Cannabis Act came into force, and Jan. 6. The vast majority of the fines (43) were for improper storage of cannabis inside a vehicle by the driver or passenger, each for about $230, Const. Jason Doucette said in an email.
Two more tickets were issued for consuming cannabis while operating a vehicle ($575), three were for consuming it while the vehicle was being operated by someone else ($230), two were for operating a vehicle while the driver or another person was smoking or vaping cannabis ($230), and one was for a minor operating a vehicle with cannabis in it ($230).
Criminal defence lawyer Kyla Lee of Acumen Law in Vancouver said she has only “a handful” of clients who are currently disputing cannabis-related tickets. She said she sees two reasons for the low number.
“The VPD’s focus has not been anything related to cannabis enforcement,” she said. “Other than cannabis-impaired driving, they’re generally taking a hands-off approach to the cannabis laws and leaving that to the Community Safety Unit that we will eventually see.”
The other reason, officers have told her, is that there has been a grace period for drivers to be educated on cannabis laws, so that some drivers who are transporting cannabis in improper containers get warnings rather than tickets, she said.
“Generally, the warn-first and explain-the-law approach seems to be what they’re favouring doing,” she said.
Vancouver police data on alcohol-related tickets were not immediately available Friday afternoon. But Lee said those continue to be significantly more common than tickets for cannabis.
Provincially, police recorded an average of 15,911 impaired-driving offences each year between 2006 and 2016, according to Ministry of Public Safety records.
“We’re still seeing lots of alcohol-related investigations by the police,” she said. “Obviously, people aren’t getting a lot of tickets for open liquor in a vehicle, but we’ve also had that law … around for so long that everybody knows it.”
With uncertainty around how U.S. border officials might handle Canadians’ past cannabis citations, Lee recommends drivers dispute any cannabis-related ticket they receive so they don’t face a lifetime ban from travel into the U.S.
“You don’t want anything on your record that’s accessible to a border guard that suggests that you’ve used or possessed cannabis,” she warned.
“Even though they’ve said they’re not targeting people who use it lawfully, if you have a conviction on your driving record for something related to having cannabis in a vehicle, that says that you did something unlawful when it comes to cannabis.”
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