Canada's police chiefs say they're ready for cannabis legalization

Oct 15 2018, 9:18 pm

With cannabis legalization in Canada just two days away, police chiefs in Canada have a simple message for the public: We are ready.

That’s the message from the head of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP), Adam Palmer.

Palmer is also the chief of the Vancouver Police Department. On Monday, he held a press conference in the city to outline CACP’s plans for the impending legalization.

“While the legal recreational use of cannabis will be new for Canadians come Wednesday, enforcing laws around impaired driving, and the illegal production, distribution, and consumption of cannabis will not be new to police,” said Palmer.

Palmer said that applying the new laws will require a “concerted approach” between various public safety and law enforcement agencies and that there are provincial, federal, and municipal laws and regulations that may require action by different public agencies.

“It’s important that the public be aware that different infractions may involve different agencies and different response times, depending on the risk to public safety,” he said.

He also stressed that “not all issues or concerns related to the legal issues of cannabis can – or will be– resolved in one day or on day one [of legalization].”

Palmer said that police across the country “will continue to respond to emergencies and imminent public safety issues, but enforcing the new laws and regulations will be an ongoing process,” involving a phased approach over days, week, months, and years to come.

“The police are ready to adapt based on the experience, lessons learned, and the actual reality in each of our communities which varies across this country,” he said. “Different areas in the country will have different priorities; as police leaders, we continually set priorities with public safety in mind, this will not change with the legalization of cannabis.”

Drug-impaired driving

Palmer spoke to the issue of drug-impaired driving and said that while it “may take some time” to work out certain issues related to the new legislation and regulations, “I can tell you that police are ready to target drug-impaired drivers new impaired driving offences, which have been identified in the new legislation, bill C-45 – which will come into effect on October 17 – but only in parts of Bill C-46 – which deals with impaired driving – will come into force.”

Some of the new offences that have been introduced, he added, “are in part two of the law, and they will come into effect on December 18.”

Palmer said police across the country have “well-established techniques to detect impairment that has successfully passed the tests of the courts in Canada for many years.”

In addition, Palmer said police will continue to rely on the standard field sobriety testing and drug recognition experts to detect and deal with drug-impaired drivers, noting that currently, there are over 13,000 police officers trained in Canada in standard field sobriety testing, “and we are expecting this number to rise to 20,000 within the next several years.”

As for the use of roadside screening, Palmer said the CACP has “continuously stated” that such testers remain an additional tool for police officers and are only one piece of the overall solution.

To date, he added, “only one model has been approved for use by the federal government. This represents the first of what we anticipate will be additional options to come.”

Palmer said the CACP “encourages further research and development of screening devices capable of quantifying THC levels.”

He noted however, that “each individual police service in Canada will evaluate and determine the potential use of drug screening devices to meet the needs of their police agency in the communities they serve.”

Cannabis use by police officers

As for cannabis use by Canadian police officers, Palmer said that once again, a one-size-fits-all approach “will not meet the needs” of all police services in Canada, adding that these decisions need to be made by individual police service agencies.

In a previous interview with Daily Hive, RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Tania Vaughan said the national police agency’s policy will be established to maintain public safety and a safe workplace.

Vaughan said all RCMP officers must be “fit for duty when reporting for work, which includes not being impaired by alcohol or any other type of drug.”

She added that the RCMP will continue to review the scientific research and legislation as it evolves and will update the policy as required.

It’s much the same story for the VPD, who will also be employing a “fit for duty” policy.

Meanwhile, agencies such as the Calgary Police Service will implement a ban on cannabis use by its officers.

“The Calgary Police Service has chosen an abstinence position on recreational cannabis for only sworn members who are qualified to carry firearms and are able to be operationally deployed,” Calgary Police Supt. Darren Leggatt, told Daily Hive.

Palmer said the CAPC recognizes that there are different approaches and that “the evidence is simply not there for the CAPC to endorse one specific approach over another.”

Beyond legalization day

Palmer said that moving forward beyond October 17, there are two specific areas where police across the country will “continue to encourage government to build on the work that has already been done.”

“We know that organized crime will attempt to capitalize on the legalization of cannabis,” said Palmer. “On this front, the CACP supports any initiative that persuades Canadians from turning to the black market to obtain cannabis.”

In addition, he said, “we’re counting on clear packaging and labelling that details penalties for illegal production and trafficking of cannabis.”

There is no doubt, said Palmer, “that Canadians are headed into uncharted waters with the legalization of cannabis in two days; there is no exception for those responsible for public safety.”

While he admitted every situation is “quite different and we’ve got to feel out the landscape as we go forward,” Palmer said police across the country have– and will continue to – enhance the preparedness of Canada’s police officers.

“It’s not a black and white thing and we have to all get used to how this new regime’s going to look.”

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