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Canadian cops are using scare tactics on marijuana legalization but the data isn’t there

What’s up with the antsy rhetoric from Canada’s police? Are they really not into mellowing out with the rest of us come next July?

In September, the Chiefs of Police sent out a warning to the federal government that there was zero chance they’d be ready for marijuana’s legalization by next summer. We need more time to train cops on the fine points of the yet-to-be-created pot laws, they said, and more money for roadside drug testing.

Forebodingly, they said we need to push back the planned date for legalization or else organized crime will take over once marijuana becomes legal. And how about keeping people from growing a bit in their backyards? That sounds like too much of a pain.

“Why do you need home grows when we’re going to have a good system to access marijuana legally?” complained OPP deputy commissioner for investigations and organized crime Rick Barnum to the House of Commons health committee.

Now, we have Victoria, BC, Police Chief Del Manak taking his charges to city council, saying that there needs to be a lot more money in the city’s upcoming budget for law enforcement, for the monitoring of home grow-ops and for policing around cannabis and youth.

“Organized crime has been involved in cannabis and trafficking for years, there are billions of dollars they are making. They will not walk away just because it’s legalized,” Manak said, as reported by Victoria News. “They will try to find a black market, they will try to find a price point, they don’t have to pay taxes. There is always going to be a need for it.”

Okay, so it’s understandable that police would be getting the jitters over legal weed. There’s going to be a learning curve for everyone, including businesses, law enforcement and the public. On that last part, the Liberal government just announced $36.4 million in funding for public education on the health and safety risks connected to pot, for example.

But what does the evidence show about policing, crime and legalization? Granted, states like Washington, Oregon and Colorado are not Canada (they like their snow sports, too, maybe) but looking across the border can be instructive.

Is there reason to be concerned about impaired driving once pot’s legal? Sure. Stoned drivers are going to be a problem just like drunk drivers are a problem now. More of an issue? Not likely, according to Washington State officials, who have gone on record saying that there’s been no measurable increase in DUI’s since legalization.

How about drug-related crime, is that going up? Nope.

In Denver, Colorado, between 2012 when pot was first legalized and 2015, marijuana-related crime went down from 0.58 per cent of overall crime to 0.42 per cent. Arrests connected to black market pot (unlawful distribution, unlawful cultivation) went up, it’s true, but the overall effect on crime and policing was negligible, as less than one per cent of all offences in Denver are marijuana-related.

So, yes, by all means, educate our cops and train them well. Just don’t use scare tactics to get us to pay more money for policing.

About The Author /

Jayson is a writer, researcher and educator with a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Ottawa. His interests range from bioethics and innovations in the health sciences to governance, social justice and the history of ideas.
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