This past year, a study on the island conducted by the PEI Health and Education department revealed that almost half of the 3000 island high-school and middle-school students surveyed are drug users, and almost 40 percent of graduating seniors had smoked marijuana. Those results were backed up by additional RCMP figures, which show that, outside of growing operations, the RCMP and other island police forces together seized 1443 grams of marijuana in 2007 and 2608 grams so far in 2008.
Needless to say, the survey was greeted with horror by authorities. But not everybody was alarmed: those same figures and survey results also suggested a greater acceptance of drug use among the population at large — something that may be deep-rooted in the largely libertarian attitudes of PEI and the Maritimes in general.
While lacking the bombast of similarly persuaded Americans, islanders — largely descendents of a prickly mixture of French-Catholic Acadians, Scots-Irish Protestants, and migratory New Englanders — are an independent lot, and “Live and let live” is an unspoken credo.
Indeed, more than three quarters of the reader responses to the pot article in the Guardian (which boasts that it “covers PEI like the dew”) were strongly against enforcing pot laws. “This war on pot is a total national disgrace!!!!,” wrote a commenter with the handle Downeaster at home. “My heart goes out to the young folk that [are] regularly criminalized for this activity.” Frank W chorused: “I’m personally encouraging all citizens of PEI to turn a blind eye to marijuana cultivation.”
Officialdom is not immune to such sentiments either. In July 2003, when Marc Emery, a Vancouver activist on a crusade to make pot legal in Canada, performed his trademark stunt of getting high in public, Charlottetown police looked the other way and refused his invitation to arrest and prosecute.
Even more significant, Ralph C. Thompson, a Provincial judge in Summerside, PEI’s second largest city, gained national notoriety — and helped spawn a flurry of enforcement action in Ottawa — by tossing out a routine marijuana case in March 2003.
Thompson argued that marijuana prosecutions nationally were conducted unevenly, and medical-marijuana use, it seems, had provided an out for a number of Canadian smokers in previous trials across the country. So in his lengthy ruling, he concluded that “All residents of Canada, wherever they are situated, are entitled, in fairness, to expect a uniformity of approach from the Federal Crown, wherever it performs its prosecutorial function. Until such time as the law is changed by Parliament, or the higher courts provide a ruling which will enable such approach,” he continued, “this charge involving the simple possession of marijuana will not proceed in this court.”
As for the Mounties and the rest of island police, they’re left collecting the bags — and wearing the badges of the perceived bad guys.
Canadian agricultural policy adds further complexity to the picture. Unlike its neighbor to the south, which adamantly refuses to legalize the production of hemp, marijuana’s tame cousin, Canadians have been free to grow the pot look-alike for its fibers and soil-enhancing properties since the late 1990s. At least a few island farmers — Mike Nabuu, executive director of the Prince Edward Island Federation of Agriculture, has no idea how many — have given the low THC crop a try, which conceivably could make it easier for others to hide marijuana in plain sight.