Port Hardy RCMP Staff Sgt. Wes Olsen believes little will change after the federal government passed cannabis legalization.
Local RCMP expect that education on cannabis use for youth and testing for impaired driving may be the only issues to watch out for with cannabis legalization last Wednesday.
“We’re going to go about doing our jobs,” Olsen said. “As part of regular duties, we will patrol the community and, as per observations, if (police) come across any illegal activity, they will engage it.”
Olsen noted that “cannabis legalization is just another thing we have to be cognizant of in our job.”
He mentioned that there is going to be a learning process as police, municipalities and the province adjust to the newly legalized drug.
“Our message would be – follow the rules. The big one for us is impaired operation and driving associated offences to the new regulations. We don’t want people falling into the trap of thinking they can use it and then operate a vehicle,” he added. “We’ll see how it rolls out. I think it’s business as usual.”
He said that cannabis use, especially mixed with other intoxicants, will “take your attention away from the roadway, causing your reaction times to slow down.”
Olsen then emphasized that cannabis will be dealt with the same procedures as police would with alcohol.
Once an individual is caught driving impaired based on police observations and roadside tests, called a standard field sobriety test, then it becomes a criminal offence. The RCMP will still use a drug recognition expert to further investigate for drug use in the test.
The police will soon have access to a tool that will test for drugs in the system while investigating impairment when pulling an individual over on the side of the road. Olsen noted that the local detachment doesn’t have the tool quite yet, so they will continue to rely on previous training. Port Hardy RCMP intend to have access to the drug testing tool as soon as possible.
In the interview, Olsen also added that “education is going to be the most important tool” in preventing minors from getting their hands on cannabis. “We will still do the regular things that we do, providing our programs locally in the schools,” he said, “we work with the schools regarding educating against drug and alcohol abuse.”
The police will have proactive ways to prevent youth from possessing and consuming cannabis. “We have mechanisms in place to sanction people for selling or providing to minors,” Olson mentioned. “If we receive a complaint, we investigate further. If we find a youth with cannabis, we will investigate further.”
He noted that the local RCMP will also use a measured approach in how they enforce the cannabis licensing act, which will fall in line with the province’s regulations on liquor control and licensing.
“There’s provincial regulations and municipal regulations which will determine where smoking will be permitted. So provincially, for example, the province puts out their regulations where that is permissible,” he pointed out, “but the municipality where you reside in may have more strict regulations where you can use cannabis.”
He did mention that “anything related to the cannabis licensing act, it’s all new to the police. There’s going to be an adjustment period for police and the public in terms of what can you do and where you can do it.”
North Island municipalities seem to be set for cannabis legalization. The District of Port Hardy has developed cannabis bylaws with buffer zones for cannabis consumption. Residents are prohibited from smoking within six metres of workplaces and any designated public space, like bus stops, playgrounds, or government buildings. Any person caught committing an offense will be fined between $250-$2,000.