Canadian police ready to deal with legal marijuana, chiefs say

The president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police is assuring the public that police departments across the country are prepared for Wednesday, when recreational marijuana becomes legal.

“‘I’m here to tell Canadians that police are ready,” said Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer at a news conference.

Palmer said enforcing new laws around legal weed will be “a work in progress.” However, he reminded people that police have been dealing with drug-impaired driving for decades. 

Vancouver’s police chief comments on readiness for legal pot:

Palmer, who is also president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, says enforcing new laws around legal weed will be “a work in progress.” 1:45

“Police may see an increase in drug-impaired driving once cannabis is legalized, but we have well established techniques to detect impairment that have successfully passed the courts in Canada for many years now.”

Currently 13,000 Canadian police officers have training in standard field sobriety testing. That number is expected to rise to 20,000 in the next few years. 

Palmer also confirmed that 833 Canadian police officers have received further specialized training as drug-recognition experts and said there is a goal of training 500 more.

The CAPC recommended earlier that that 2,000 officers receive drug recognition training to meet the federal government’s promise of cracking down on drug-impaired driving.

Legislation to legalize recreational cannabis was passed by the House of Commons in November of 2017 and approved by the Senate in June.

A cannabis retailer holds 30 grams of loose cannabis buds. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The new laws allow adults 18 and over to possess up to 30 grams of legal marijuana and to grow up to four plants for personal use.

Growers and suppliers are required to be federally licensed. Retailers will have to abide by provincial and municipal laws, which could vary widely across the country.

A flowering cannabis plant grows at Blissco Cannabis Corp. in Langley, B.C., on Oct. 9. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Palmer said organized crime has historically been heavily involved in the illegal marijuana trade but that legalization will help push the gangsters out over time.

“With millions of Canadians using illicit [marijuana] supply for decades and decades, it’s going to be an iterative change,” he said. 

Palmer doubts there will be raids on stores currently selling illegal cannabis come Wednesday, pointing out that despite the attention around legalization, cannabis is not a top concern for police when it comes to public safety.

“The marijuana trade is important but it’s not the most important drug issue going on in Canada today,” said Palmer. “Fentanyl kills 11 Canadians a day. Marijuana does not.”

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