A woman takes a puff from a cannabis vape pen in Los Angeles on Dec. 22, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Richard Vogel

‘Sky didn’t fall:’ Police, lawyers still adjusting after pot legalization

Statistics Canada says 541 people were charged under the federal Cannabis Act between Oct. 17, 2018 and the end of the year

Police, lawyers and advocates say that one year into cannabis legalization, Canada has a long way to go toward stamping out the black market and pot-impaired driving.

“We can’t call it a success at this point,” Chief Const. Mike Serr of the Abbotsford, B.C., police department said of the law change a year ago Thursday.

He said organized crime’s market share and youth consumption have not yet fallen, and tools to detect stoned drivers are still lacking.

But Serr, who also co-chairs the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police drug advisory committee, said resources and workloads have not changed much.

“When you talk to chiefs all across the country, the sky didn’t fall.”

Statistics Canada says 541 people were charged under the federal Cannabis Act between Oct. 17, 2018 and the end of the year. That includes 190 people charged with various selling offences and 95 people charged with possessing illicit cannabis or more than 30 grams.

READ MORE: A year after pot legalization in Canada, it’s a slow roll

In the past year, Alberta and Manitoba have each issued more than 2,000 tickets under provincial laws, while in Ontario there have been more than 7,000 provincial charges.

Toronto cannabis lawyer Jack Lloyd said he’s been busy.

“We’re still criminalizing behaviour that is supposed to be legalized,” said Lloyd, adding most of his cases are for selling offences.

“We’ve got a long ways to go to make sure that we’ve got fair and sensible regulations, but cannabis is legal and we should be very proud of that,” said Lloyd.

“There’s some things that need to be cleaned up and improved. Sometimes you go to court for that. Sometimes you talk to government about that.”

Statistics Canada says just over four in 10 consumers reported purchasing at least some of their pot illegally.

“The cost of legal cannabis is still too high. Barriers for medical access are still too high. And access to high-quality cannabis is also being stymied,” said lawyer Harrison Jordan, who advises individuals and businesses on cannabis law.

Jordan said there’s no rhyme or reason to whether police will charge someone under provincial or federal legislation.

“Where a charging officer wants to send a message they’ll go with the federal criminal charges, as they carry more of a stigma and more of a weight.”

But Serr said officers are generally aiming to change behaviour with the less onerous provincial charges.

Jordan said he’s heard from a lot of people slapped with $200 tickets for having cannabis readily available in a vehicle when they had it in a closed bag, which is allowed under Ontario’s law.

When they learn how much a lawyer will cost, they typically opt to pay the fine, he said.

READ MORE: Off-duty cop spots cannabis growing during Revelstoke garden tour

Andrew Murie, CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada, said cannabis-impaired driving was a problem long before legalization and it’s unclear whether it has improved or worsened.

He said he’s glad federal impaired driving laws have been updated, but the rollout of saliva testing devices has been too slow.

“Police officers have been out there saying they’ve seen no problems since legalization. Well, they haven’t had the tools. They haven’t had the training,” said Murie.

“I think it’s there. They’re just not seeing it.”

Serr said there are more than 1,100 drug recognition experts now working across Canada, up more than 300 from a year ago.

Vancouver impaired driving lawyer Kyla Lee said fears that legal cannabis would lead to a surge in impaired driving do not seem to have materialized.

There was an uptick in some U.S. states after they legalized pot, but Lee said that was likely due to the fact that edibles — with their stronger, longer high — came on the market there right away. In Canada, there has been a year-long wait, with edibles and other cannabis derivitives becoming legal Thursday.

Lee said Canada’s amended impaired driving law is problematic because the presence of cannabis in someone’s system is not a valid measure of impairment.

“I think there was really a bogeyman of cannabis-impaired driving that was sold to pass these laws.”

Lee said there have been few cannabis-impaired driving charges and she suspects the tests aren’t more widely used because police and prosecutors are still skeptical of the science and wary of going to court.

“They don’t want to engage in a course of conduct … that might lead to a finding that the law’s unconstitutional and jeopardize the ability to use those laws in more significant circumstances.”

READ MORE: Canadian company to launch low-cost cannabis product to undercut illicit sellers

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Youth recreation programs making a comeback in Enderby

Enderby and District Recreation Services is offering three youth programs for the month of June

Burned out car be gone thanks to Vernon dealership, ski resort

Bannister GM Vernon and SilverStar Mountain Resort team up in road cleanup

Vernon high school football stars ready for the next level

Four members of the VSS Panthers will be entering the University of Calgary football program

Vernon chamber pushes province for child care support in next budget

The chamber addressed the B.C. Select Standing Committee working on 2021 budget proposal

Revelstoke, North Okanagan RCMP team up to nab Alberta man, stolen BMW

Helicopter, dogs used in North Okanagan highway arrest

March dental conference key to many of B.C.’s COVID-19 cases

Early infections from China, Iran were quickly contained

Penticton Search and Rescue respond to six calls in less than a week

Two hikers rescued in early morning search near Greyback Lake latest in series of searches

Regional District of Kootenay Boundary rescinds all Grand Forks-area evacuation orders

Evacuation alerts for 1,136 Boundary properties remain in effect as officials monitor forecasts

MAP: Dr. Henry reveals which B.C. regions have seen most COVID-19 cases

B.C. health officials release a first look at how the novel coronavirus has reached all corners of the province

In photos: Modified, yet traditional graduation gives Penticton graduates a sense of normalcy

Students around Penticton take part in pre-recorded graduation ceremonies

Filming to resume safely later in June: Okanagan Film Commission

Film commissioner Jon Summerland said they want to start filming again later in June

Kelowna RCMP investigate woman’s sudden death

Criminality is not suspected at this time, according to RCMP

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation woman, 26, fatally shot by police in Edmundston, N.B.

Police were conducting a well-being check at the time of the incident

‘We either make a difference or we don’t’: Revelstoke teen leads protest in support of BLM

Revelstoke joined cities across the world protesting against racism and police brutality

Most Read