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‘It’s Impossible’: Canadian Police Challenge Legalization Deadline

September 18, 2017
"Victoria, Canada - May 23, 2011. A policewoman stands with her back turned to the camera. As a member of the RCMP, she has been recruited to restrain crowds this day. People have gathered here to watch the Victoria Day parade."
Many Canadians are pleased that the federal government is going to legalize recreational marijuana next July but others are not—and some of the most vocal critics of that date are those who will be responsible for enforcing the new laws.

The deputy commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police made that abundantly clear on Sept. 12, when he appeared before the parliamentary health committee studying the proposed legislation. “If legislation is ready to go in July 2018, policing will not be ready to go in August. It’s impossible,” Rick Barnum stated plainly. He said the legislation represents “a great step” but added that it should be taken “slowly and properly.”

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Mike Serr, co-chair of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police drug advisory committee, asked members of parliament to consider giving law enforcement officials more time to get ready—a request that the association had submitted in writing days earlier.

Law enforcement officials say they need more time to teach police how to enforce the new laws.

Law enforcement officials across the country say they need more time to teach police officers how to enforce the new laws. They also need time to double the number of officers who are certified to conduct roadside tests for drug-impaired driving. In July, Canadian Association of Chiefs Of Police President Mario Harel said about 2,000 certified officers would be needed, more than three times the current total.

In an interview with Leafly, Wayne Kalinski, vice chair of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police’s substance abuse committee, explained that Canadian police officers have to be sent to Arizona to learn how to detect drug impairment in drivers. In addition to being time-consuming, it’s costly, he said, as is replacing those officers during their absence.

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Ottawa recently responded to the law enforcement community’s pleas for more resources by designating $274 million to help police and border officials cover costs stemming from the new law — but the timing was far from ideal. The money will start to flow after the legislation is enacted rather than before, which is when police say they need it.

Kalinski points to other problems that have yet to be addressed.

While a breathalyzer measures the amount of alcohol in a driver’s blood stream, there is currently no equivalent device for detecting THC, he says, at least not one that has been given the stamp of approval by Canadian law enforcement officials.

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But even if there was such a device, how much THC would be considered too much? Though a driver with two nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood would be considered legally impaired under the new legislation, there is no scientific consensus on how much THC constitutes impairment. Also, that THC limit is low enough that a person could exceed it a week or two after ingesting cannabis.`

What if the federal government refuses to delay legalization?

As Barnum told the House of Commons committee, if legislation is enacted next July, police won’t be ready for six months to a year afterwards, creating a window of time during which organized crime could flourish. That would cause so much damage it would be “very, very hard [for law enforcement to] ever regain a foothold,” he said.

Kalinski told Leafly “police would continue to enforce laws as best they could” if the legislation was enacted in July but they are hoping the government will give them more time and resources.

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So far, Ottawa seems unwilling to budge on the legalization date. In June, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Ottawa had given authorities “lots of time” to prepare for legalization and added that it was “time to move on.”

Former Toronto police chief Bill Blair, who is now parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice and who served as chair of the federal task force on marijuana legalization, recently told reporters he doesn’t have authority to approve or deny a delay but seemed to imply one wasn’t necessary. “I think it’s important that we focus on getting this job done as quickly as we are able. We have established a pretty tight timeline, a difficult timeline, but that challenge is I think an important one, and everybody is working hard to get it done.”

We want to get our people proper training and equipment,” Kalinksi told Leafly. “There is no point in enacting legislation without us being prepared. That would just put us behind the eight ball.”

Randi Druzin's Bio Image

Randi Druzin

Randi Druzin is an author and journalist in Toronto. She has worked at several major media outlets, including the National Post and the CBC, and has written for dozens of publications, such as The New York Times, Time magazine, ESPN The Magazine, and The Globe and Mail.

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  • Kyleigh Conner

    THE BIG LIE Pot ENHANCES one’s awareness, it does not impede it. What a scam to suggest one is impaired after smoking weed is absurd.
    Revenue whores and as a 62 year old man who has smoked EVERY DAY for the last 48 years, I am insulted. If I drive NOT stoned, I am impaired . How people who don’t smoke and even have an opinion is ridiculous.

    • Bob Mann

      I’ve been thinking the exact same thing.
      My focus, awareness are all enhanced because that is what cannabis does.
      It enhances.

    • Duncan20903

      So you’ll never have any problem with the police, so what’s your problem? Myself remembers the first couple of years of cannabis enjoyment and knows for a fact that I was lucky that I didn’t drive often and sorry that I drove at all. To this day I’ll still take myself off the road on occasion when I take too many edibles. I don’t think that your denial of the reality that the inexperienced and the accidentally overdosed are in fact impaired does our cause any good at all.Especially when we consider the likely reality that there will be a significantly higher ratio of newbies the first couple of years.Controlled dosage edibles will go a long way to ameliorating accidental overdoses but there’s still going to be a learning curve. Claiming otherwise sets us up to be defenseless for the inevitable attacks of the idiot prohibitionists.

    • drlee

      I hope we can get to a point where we can be specific in terms of what we measure and what we enforce. I’ve microdosed, which wasn’t impairing at all and I felt like it maybe helped my driving attention. I’ve also had a little more than a microdose and didn’t feel as confident in my driving. We also need to be mindfully specific in how we consume our research literature and apply it to law & policy decisions. I’m not up-to-date, but at least some of the research (out of Germany, I think) showed focus/concentration benefits for ADHD’ers, but focus/concentration impairment for non-ADHD’ers. I believe some research also zero’s in on what dose ranges may more generally be safe or even beneficial vs which ranges may be less beneficial and less safe.

      Also consider that tolerance effect plays a big part in the level of impairment, but that may be an important factor that cannot be measured for a long time. We have the same hurdle in alcohol measurement. The answer there has understandably been that the police don’t care if you’re not ‘that impaired’ because you have a high tolerance level.

  • Contrarian

    How utterly pathetic. Kalinsky is the ultimate ‘chicken little’ — “organized crime could flourish”, because 2,000 cops are not trained on how to administer an ineffective THC test and/or apply some dopey eyeball scrutiny assessment?! . . and they must to be sent to Arizona to be trained?? This is the absurd logic of civil servants who believe the public purse is their cash cow and that they can take full advantage of this faux-legalization to further stuff their closets with paraphernalia and cash to fight the continued drug war against a medicinal plant. “Ok, first test — pull over anyone driving under the speed limit, with both hands on the wheel, singing to the radio — clearly if three are in the car, they are organized crime” Grow up, your silly arguments don’t fool the high IQ’ers enjoying their terpenes and good health!

  • Nedloh Sirrom

    The problem here in Ontario is the fact that the OPP are required to make a specific amount of arrests per week, month etc. (Internal job review issue’s) Busting a marijuana grow room is much safer than busting a meth lab. Chemicals dangers aside, meth chemists have guns…this is why Ontario is the meth capital of Canada. Cops are terrified of pot legalization because now they will have to deal with bikers, the russian mafia and so on. The police need to man up, quit whining about the inevitable June 1st deadline and do their job as prescribed by lawmakers.

    • drlee

      So the police are like me. Right now, I should be working, but I’m learning about Cannabis instead because it’s easier and more fun and because I can’t help myself from procrastinating. Taking cannabis arrests away from Canadian police is like taking away their procrastinators? I can empathize. Just imagine if someone took Leafly away and I had to do my paperwork…but my paperwork was holding a gun and smoking the meth that it just cooked and/or purchased wholesale! That would be scary and it would suck. And now I can’t stop thinking about a cartoon image of a piece o’ paper that has angry, shifty, methy eyes, holding a gun up in the air erratically, laughing sinister’ly kind of like the Jared Leto version of The Joker, but creepier…

  • I didn’t realize that the day weed becomes legal everyone will become potheads.Not a lot is going to change,people aren’t going to be running out to the LCBO all of a sudden to buy a product simply because it’s sale has been legalized or for any other reason.Yes people unfortunately do and will drive under the influence but don’t expect the roads to be clogged with stoned drivers on their way to Taco Bell.
    All these doomsday scenarios are a distraction,instead get on with it.

  • drlee

    Why are police chiefs sending thousands of officers down to Arizona? Wouldn’t it be easier, cheaper, and faster to send a dozen forensic educators up to Canada? C’mon, Arizona, Canadia isn’t THAT bad, is it?

  • drlee

    What if Feds didn’t budge the timeline and Canadian police took this as an opportunity to focus on identifying impaired drivers as well as possible and just getting them off the road instead of making an arrest (e.g., make a sober driver take over, take a high driver back to the station to call for a ride home or sleep it off if necessary, tow the car if necessary). During this period of grace that Canadian police extend to Cannabis users, the police can benefit by gaining more experience & practice in how to deal with these situations effectively and personably. Then, the Canadian police would look like they’re just looking out for their fellow Canadians during this ‘grace period’, ushering-in a Golden Age of Canadian Police-citizen relations! History’s and cannabis’ trajectories would certainly be altered.

    Police commonly execute discrete periods in which they pull people over in zones where people frequently speed just to give them courtesy warnings…to remind us that they might be more concerned about our safety than our ticket fine dollars. Once the ‘grace period’ ends, Police start a discrete period of more strict speed ticketing. It’s like warning someone that you might lay a whoopin’ on them if they don’t shut-up before you actually kick their butt. It’s just good courtesy. (I just dropped my pretend microphone…on purpose this time)

  • Nedloh Sirrom

    I agree that no one wants to deal with hard drug organized crime syndicates but this is what all cops signed up for. I’m sick of us pot smokers to be a scapegoat for the police not havining sufficient training. Every time I get high it astounds me I could go to prision for one joint. My buzz has been harshed for 20 years now because the O.P.P. (and cops in america…) want to derail legalization to save their jobs. They will say anything to keep the line of offenders shipped to prisons because jail is a money maker. With that being said, all drugs in some capacity should be up for legalization. In this world today so many other issue’s need to be worked on…..intoxication, like sex is a personal choice and we can all dig that…..

  • Alex Skarnikat

    Trudeau will have been in office, and thus legalization common knowledge almost 3 years when July 2018 rolls around. That is plenty of time.

  • Dante-the-cat

    It’s utterly ridiculous what the police’s stance is on this. Are they expecting on July 1 the entire country will get high and the riots will begin?

  • Dante-the-cat

    What utter bullshit. How many years between the invention of the automobile and the breathalyzer? Did they outlaw alcohol until they found an adequate sobriety test?