Legalized pot expected to have ‘significant impact’ on police work

 

Legalizing marijuana will dramatically increase the workload for police forces across the country, says Victoria Police Chief Del Manak.

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“The Cannabis Act will legalize cannabis, and I can assure you that the work for the police department and every police agency across this country is going to exponentially increase,” Manak told city councillors during a budget workshop on Tuesday.

Efforts to keep drugs out of the hands of organized crime and youth and to deal with drivers who are impaired by cannabis “will not happen overnight,” Manak said.

“There will have to be training. There will have to be enforcement. There will have to be a strategy and a plan that’s put in place and I can assure you that it will be the police at the front end of it that will bear this burden,” he said.

Coun. Jeremy Loveday thought Manak’s comments to be counterintuitive and that legalization should bring about the need for less enforcement, not more.

Manak disagreed.

“We know that organized crime has been involved in cannabis and in trafficking for years. There are billions of dollars that they are making,” Manak said.

“They will not be walking away just because it’s legalized. They will try to find the black market. They will try to find a price point. They don’t have to pay taxes.”

Eight U.S. states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use of marijuana. Those states that have legalized pot are finding that after legalization there is a greater need for additional cannabis enforcement teams working to keep it out of the hands of youth, he said.

New regulations likely will specify a small number of plants that people can grow in their homes. Police will undoubtedly encounter grow operations far larger than what will be allowed, Manak said.

Improved and enhanced education campaigns will have to be developed for youths in schools, he said.

“It’s easy to say that we’re going to create these laws and we’re going to create a framework that’s going to keep it out of the hands of youth. But who is doing that?” Manak said.

“We are going to see a significant impact that is going to fall to the hands of police to keep the community safe.”

The federal government introduced legislation in April that would legalize recreational marijuana by July 1, 2018, but is leaving it up to each province to determine its own distribution system and usage regulations. Provinces will also be able to upgrade traffic safety laws related to cannabis-impaired driving.

The proposed cannabis act stipulates that any promotion, packaging or labeling of cannabis that could be appealing to young persons or encourages consumption would be prohibited.

The federal government is planning extensive general population and youth-focused public education campaigns.

It is also aiming to spend $161 million over the next five years to help train and equip police to administer roadside saliva tests to check for drug-impaired driving.

Loveday said he hoped police forces won’t have to assume responsibility for the likes of education campaigns.

“The police don’t have a tobacco unit or an alcohol unit that’s trying to just keep those substances out of the hands of young people,” Loveday said. “I’m really hopeful that this won’t increase costs.”

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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