‘Police are ready’ for legal pot, say Canadian chiefs

But Canadians won’t see major policing changes as pot becomes legal

Although police are ready for cannabis to be legalized Wednesday, detachments across the country will take a “day-by-day” approach, Canadian Association of Police Chiefs president Adam Palmer told reporters Monday.

“I’m here to tell Canadians that police are ready,” Palmer, who is Vancouver’s police chief, said.

“It’s important to remember that while the legal recreational use of cannabis will new to Canadians, enforcing laws around impaired driving and the illegal production, distribution and consumption of cannabis will not be new to police.”

READ MORE: After 10 years of fighting drunk drivers, Alexa’s Team asks: What about pot?

Canada will become the second country, after Uruguay, to legalize marijuana on Oct. 17.

In B.C., pot will be sold at BC Liquor Distribution Branch operated stores, online and by private retailers.

READ MORE: Private marijuana stores should shut down, Mike Farnworth says

Currently, only one bricks-and-mortar government store in Kamloops is set to open on Wednesday, and the province said that 62 of the 173 applications for private stores have been sent onto local governments for final approval.

Palmer acknowledged that with 15 per cent of Canadians having used pot in the past three months, it will take time before users move away from the black market.

“Millions and millions of Canadians are smoking pot… almost all of them have gotten it from illegal sources,” said Palmer.

“When the law changes on [Oct.[ 17, you’re not going to see big changes overnight. We’ll change that balance where it’s not coming from an illicit supply, it’s coming from a legitimate supply.”

Palmer said that setting legal pot prices low enough to supplant illicit marijuana dealers will be key to shutting out a black market he says has funded organized crime across Canada for decades.

But despite the new laws, Palmer said that there were “no big raids or anything planned” for Oct. 17 and that enforcement of the country’s new pot laws will have to fit into an already busy police priority list.

READ MORE: B.C. home to 1/3 of Canada’s overdose deaths in first 3 months of 2018

“It’s good to have a clear direction… but in the scheme of things, marijuana is important but it is not the most important thing going on in the country,” Palmer said.

“Fentanyl kills a lot of people… marijuana doesn’t.”

Who will be enforcing the new laws

Things like smoking in prohibited places will likely fall to municipal bylaw officers, while large-scale imports, exports and production will fall to police detachments.

Closing down illegal pot shops will be a joint effort between the province and police, Palmer said.

In B.C., Palmer said that pot will be treated more like alcohol than tobacco.

“You can’t walk down the street and drink a bottle of beer but you will be able to walk down the street and smoke marijuana in this province,” said Palmer.

“If somebody’s walking down the street smoking a cigarette, the police aren’t coming up to them and seeing if that tobacco is purchased at the 7-11 or they purchased it illegally from a tobacco trafficker.”

If people smoke in areas they aren’t allowed to, they won’t be arrested, Palmer noted.

“Nobody’s going to jail for something like that.”

Cracking down on drug-impaired driving

Although the federal government approved the Drager DrugTest 5000 in September, many police forces across Canada won’t be rolling it out right away.

Instead, Palmer said, they’ll be relying on the standard field sobriety test that’s been used for years.

READ MORE: 14% of people admit to driving after smoking pot: Stats Canada

“It doesn’t fit the need for every agency,” said Palmer, noting it would be an “additional tool” for police.

Palmer’s own Vancouver police won’t be using the drug test.

More to come.


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