Senior Canadian police officials told MPs studying the government’s marijuana legalization legislation that police won’t be ready to enforce new laws by next summer, and they are now asking the government for more time.
The government has vowed to legalize the drug by July 1, 2018, and introduced a bill in the House of Commons last spring to do just that.
“If legislation is ready to go July 2018, policing will not be ready to go Aug. 1. It’s impossible,” said Rick Barnum, deputy commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police.
“I think we are very close. I agree that something had to change. This is a great step …, but we’ve got to do it right and do it slowly and properly,” said Barnum.
“We are asking the that the government consider giving us more time to have all the legislation fully in place which will allow us to properly train, prepare for implementation on Day 1,” said Mike Serr, co-chair of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police drug advisory committee.
MPs also heard from Thomas Carrique, co-chair of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police organized crime committee. Carrique said a lack of adequate police training can lead to poor decisions and bad case law that will impact the sustainability of the law before the courts.
‘Mitigate’ but not ‘eliminate’ organized crime
MPs were told the new legislation will not eliminate organize crime in the cannabis industry.
“This legislation will not eliminate organized crime, but there is an opportunity to mitigate the impact organized crime has on our communities,” said Carrique.
Carrique said the opportunity to mitigate will be found in improved regulations and more stringent security screenings that include not just cannabis companies or licence holders, but also the investors, contractors and suppliers.
“If you follow the money, you will find the organized crime. It is currently a seven billion dollar illicit industry in this country. There are over 300 criminal organizations that are currently involved in the production, distribution, importation or exportation of cannabis,” said Carrique.
Week of hearings
Officials from Colorado and Washington — two states that legalized recreational cannabis — are also set to field questions today from the House of Commons health committee.
CBCNews.ca will be carrying Tuesday’s committee hearing live.
The committee is holding five full days of uninterrupted hearings.
On Monday, MPs heard from Anne McLellan, the former chair of the government’s task force on marijuana legalization, as well as senior government officials, cannabis industry representatives, and police. Effectively combating organized crime and the illicit market dominated day one of hearings.
Nova Scotia Liberal MP Bill Casey, the committee chair, said he’s concerned about the contamination of cannabis growing facilities, the four-plant personal allowance rule and the minimum 18-year age of access.
“We have a lot to learn and a lot to listen to,” he told CBC News.
NDP MP Don Davies, vice-chair of the health committee, has accused the Liberals of rushing the hearings process, “cramming” in witnesses to dilute parliamentary and public engagement and debate around flawed legislation.
“I’m concerned they’re trying to rip the bandage off and move to the next stage without getting really varied and diverse input from Canadians,” he said.
Along with the witness hearings, the health committee has also received 99 written submissions.
The Canadian Medical Association repeated its concerns about health risks associated with cannabis, particularly in its smoked form. It urged the government to set the legal age at 21.
Casey said the committee will likely make recommendations on how to improve and strengthen the legislation, and he did not rule out changing the age limit.
Last week, Ontario became the first province to announce a framework for the sale and consumption of marijuana, which includes 150 stand-alone stores by 2020 and an online ordering service. The legal age for cannabis use in Ontario will be 19.