The Canadian government seems to be sticking to its deadline of July 2018 for nationwide cannabis legalization despite pleas from the country’s police services to hit the brakes.
“I think it’s important that we focus on getting this job done as quickly as we are able,” said Bill Blair, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Justice and the federal point-man on cannabis, following concerns raised by police groups this week.
“We’ve 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.”
On Tuesday, officials from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, Ontario Provincial Police and the Saskatoon Police Service were among dozens to testify to the House of Commons health committee as it studies the government’s bill to legalize cannabis.
Police claimed there is no chance they will be ready to enforce new cannabis laws by next summer, saying they need more time to train officers, increase public education and boost the number of officers certified to conduct roadside drug impaired driving testing.
There are only 83 Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officers with the drug-impaired driving recognition training, said OPP deputy commissioner for investigations and organized crime Rick Barnum. The force estimates it will need at least 400 to 500 in total. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police said there must be at least 2,000 officers with the training nationwide, up from roughly 600 now.
Police also believe the feds should reconsider allowing people to grow up to four of their cannabis plants, not only because it will be difficult and expensive to enforce but because it will allegedly increase access to youth.
"Why do you need home grows when we're going to have a good system to access marijuana legally?" said Barnum.
Legalization will bring many new problems, added police, including an expected rise in complaints about neighbours owning cannabis plants, suspected grow-ops and robberies and home invasions.
One thing the police did feel optimistically about? The Ontario government’s plan for legalization, which includes up 150 provincial cannabis stores managed by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario by 2020 and a minimum age of 19 for purchase.
Barnum said this plan will ensure anyone selling cannabis is adequately regulated and subjected to thorough background checks.
While acknowledging that significant work is needed to meet the "target date" of July 2018, Blair said the current situation is "unacceptable."
He said the legalization rollout will become clearer for police once all the provinces and territories announce their individual plans.
The Canadian government recently announced that $274 million has been budgeted to help police and border officials enforce the new cannabis laws.