PORT HAWKESBURY: There is widespread agreement that the upcoming legalization of cannabis in October will provide challenges for law enforcement.
Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey, a former RCMP officer, said law enforcement has been responding to a product that has been available on the black market for decades and the police have resources dedicated to dealing with higher level crimes like importation and trafficking.
“Simple possession, for the most part, is left to the men and women on the street,” Furey explained.
“That was frustrating to the law enforcement community because you stop an individual for five or six joints in their pocket or in their cigarette package, it’s necessary to arrest the person, detain them back to the police station, fingerprinting, release documents, then the officer has to do what they call long hand information,” Furey explained. “That consumed a lot of officer time and a lot of human resources which equates to dollars, to money and it takes officers away from other areas of responsibility.”
About 10 years ago, Furey said the courts “decriminalized” simple possession, handing-out minimal fines or absolute discharges for such offences and in that time, many in law enforcement felt their efforts were being wasted.
“When we looked at the scope of our work… we were advancing a concern then that we were expending a lot of police resource on the enforcement of cannabis, illegal possession, simply possession, only to have the courts, in many ways, dismiss the matters,” he recalled.
The justice minister said one of the major considerations of legalization surrounds impaired driving by drug.
“You’re going to need equipment and training to ramp up that whole ability to enforce,” Furey explained.
He said there is a two step process for determining impaired driving by drugs. The first is the Standard Field Sobriety Test (SFST) where an officer stops a vehicle, makes some observations and runs cognitive tests.
“The officer is developing grounds to continue their investigation,” the minister explained of that first step.
If there is still evidence a driver is under the influence, Furey said they would then reach out to the Drug Recognition Export (DRE) officer who would run more tests on that driver to determine if there is impairment.
An aggravating factor for law enforcement is that there are no tests to detect impaired driving by drug, Furey acknowledged.
“There is no technology that’s identified and approved for that purpose,” the minister noted, explaining that such equipment exists for alcohol impairment. “As we speak, there is no device.”
The provincial government and police forces have offered funding for training in both SFST and DRE and Nova Scotia is presently negotiating with the federal government to receive funding for training and equipment.
Furey said the federal government is assuming extra costs for education and awareness, the province is taking over the costs of distribution and retail, and municipalities will also have extra costs.
“We have to open and honest to the discussion as to whether or not the legalization of cannabis is going to have increased costs on policing,” Furey stated. “Some would argue that there is an opportunity to redirect resources as a result of the legalization.
“But in many cases, we don’t know what the actual costs will be.”
While municipalities are aware there will be increased policing costs as a result of cannabis legalization, like Furey, Port Hawkesbury Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton said those figures remain unknown.
“We strongly suspect that it will go up just because the legalization is just going to change the narrative, the paradigm of marijuana use,” the mayor noted. “I think it will have an impact, I don’t know what kind of scope or what kind of an impact that will be.”
Chisholm-Beaton said municipalities are unsure what kind of compensation they will receive from the provincial government as a result of this cost increase but she is hoping negotiations will be successful.
The Port Hawkesbury Mayor said there are “all kinds of different layers” to legalization with a lot of work and coordination required between all levels of government in dealing with new laws.
She said municipalities do have some power through their ability to approve zoning by-laws.
“In terms of ‘are we prepared?’I don’t think we are,” Chisholm-Beaton said of municipalities. “Certainly there are some things that we can do as municipalities that gives us a little bit of control and that is through zoning. Zoning, we can identify where or if we want distribution or grow-type of endeavours in our community and the number of those.”
Another factor that will influence the impact of cannabis legislation surrounds personal use, Chisholm-Beaton pointed out, noting that municipalities will have to decide how they will enforce by-laws.
“The way that our citizens use could have an impact on policing,” the mayor said. “Even our smoke free polices that we have, there’ll be an impact because it’s going to take awhile for municipal policy to catch up with legalized marijuana use.
“If we don’t have it built into our policies, then it’s pretty hard to enforce.”
The mayor said the RCMP and other police forces could fill enforcement gaps, but other voids in enforcement might “be left hanging” by municipalities trying to catch-up with legalization.
The mayor stated that despite these challenges, she remains somewhat optimistic, adding that it will take time for municipalities to sit down and wrap their heads around this issue.
“There will be challenges and there will be opportunities,” Chisholm-Beaton said.
“I think it’s going to be a process that we’re going to have to see play out because, I think, depending on the municipality you’re in, there’s going to be different tolerance thresholds with regards to citizens. Some citizens are not going to be as tolerant to the legalized marijuana and there could be stigmas with regards to its use and that will take some time to work itself out.
“And then there are businesses who see the opportunity. They’re hungry for some of the opportunities that legalizing marijuana will bring, whether it’s growing or processing, or maybe supplying the province through the NSLCs.”