Delta Police Chief Neil Dubord. (Delta Police Department photo)

Delta Police Chief Neil Dubord. (Delta Police Department photo)

COLUMN: Cannabis legalization brings challenges for Canadian police

Delta Police Chief Neil Dubord talks about the challenges police face as pot becomes legal

Having worked as a police officer for many years, I have to admit, it requires a shift in thinking to look at marijuana as a legal substance. Countless policing hours were dedicated to keeping it out of our homes, schools and communities, but the future will be different.

Since the federal government announcement earlier this year, the law enforcement community began work to determine what public safety issues may arise with the availability of legal marijuana. Much of the public discourse was simple: legalize it, regulate it, tax it and use the revenues for everything from health care to education spending.

Unfortunately, it is not that simple from a public safety perspective, and the Delta Police, along with our policing partners, have done a great deal of work to identify and address key issues.

Consideration has to be given to store front locations and proximity to youth, to a pricing scheme that cuts out the illegal market, to training police on the new Cannabis Act and related amendments to existing laws, and to how the police will enforce issues like public consumption and personal cultivation. Each of these issues comes with many layers of detail that need to be addressed, and this will come at a cost to police departments and municipalities, both financially and in lost productivity.

Without doubt, the single most pressing public safety issue is that of drug-impaired driving. The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction has found that among drivers who tested positive for drugs following a fatal crash, almost 70 per cent of those under the age of 19 tested positive for marijuana. In addition, a large proportion of youth don’t see driving under the influence of marijuana as a problem.

Washington and Colorado States have both experienced an increase in fatal crashes where a driver tested positive for marijuana, and that statistic is not declining. With legal marijuana available for purchase by young adults, we must take this information very seriously.

Over the coming months, police leaders will continue to work with the provincial government on training standards for drug impaired driving enforcement, enhancing legislation and developing education strategies to ensure safety on B.C. roads is not impacted by a legal marijuana market.

Here in Delta, police officers will continue to make impaired driving enforcement a top priority, regardless of whether it is by drugs or alcohol. The most prevalent policing issue for businesses and residents in Delta is traffic and road safety, and we have made huge gains over the years with alcohol impaired driving. We don’t want to go backwards.

Neil Dubord is the Delta Police Department’s chief constable. He joined the DPD on June 29, 2015 after three years as chief of the Metro Vancouver Transit Police and 25 years with the Edmonton Police Service where he was the Deputy Chief in charge of Community Policing Bureau.