Majority of B.C. residents worried about police's ability enforce pot laws: survey
With Oct. 17 fast approaching, more than half of British Columbians who took part in a recent survey said they're not confident in their community police force's ability to stop drivers who are under the influence of marijuana.
A total of 54 per cent of B.C. participants in Angus Reid's Canada-wide poll reported being "not that confident" or "not confident at all" in law enforcement's ability to mitigate the potential effects of the soon-to-be-legal drug on road safety.
Only six per cent said they are "very confident" and 26 per cent said they were "confident."
"In B.C., we're a bit of an outlier. We're more confident in our province's ability to regulate and distribute marijuana. We feel better about law enforcement… but that doesn't mean that we're firmly on one side of that," said institute executive director Shachi Kurl. "There's still a lot of skepticism here in B.C. and across the country."
Similar data was collected across the other six regions surveyed with at least 57 per cent of those who took part expressing uncertainty about the issue.
In Alberta, that number jumped to 68 per cent, with only a quarter of participants reporting that they are "confident" in law enforcement's abilities and preparation.
The survey found the greatest amount of uncertainty among those over the age of 35 and past Conservative voters.
"Age, political affiliation and support for legalization all play a significant role in determining confidence in their community police," the survey's authors wrote. "Younger Canadians are more confident, though they are still more doubtful than not (40 per cent to 49 per cent), while past Conservatives are half as likely as Trudeau’s 2015 voters to feel confident."
Overall, 62 per cent of those surveyed said their support legalization. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the greatest discrepancy when it came to policing was found among those who oppose Bill C-45, with 79 per cent reporting a lack of confidence.
The uncertainty comes with just over three weeks left until Canada becomes the second country in the world to legalize recreational cannabis.
Bill C-45 lays out the rules for possession, distribution, advertising and licensing regime for pot. Ottawa has also passed Bill C-46, which changes impaired driving laws to allow authorities to conduct roadside sobriety tests.
According to a 14-year study released early this year by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation, the percentage of fatal crashes in Canada where alcohol was involved decreased from 35 to 28 per cent between 2000 and 2014.
But even before recreational use of the drug is legalized, the involvement of marijuana rose from 12 per cent to 19 per cent of cases during the same period, exacerbating fears about what those numbers might look like after legalization in the absence of effective law enforcement.
The province, however, insists cops in B.C. will be ready for legalization.
"We will be ready. Legislation is in place. The police are being trained. They're well-aware of the issues around drug-impaired driving," Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said Tuesday.
B.C. has introduced a new, 90-day Administrative Driving Prohibition for those found to be high behind the wheel, but the Ministry of Public Safety said the program is still under development and isn't ready yet, adding that there are other tools to get drivers off the road in the meantime.
"The police right now, have the ability to use standard field sobriety (tests) for drug impairment," Farnworth said. "They will be using that."
In a separate statement issued to CTV News, the ministry said offices currently have two options when dealing with drivers under the influence marijuana: issue a 24-hour driving ban or pursue criminal charges against the motorist.
The federally approved screening device, the Dräger Drug Test 5000, has also been a point of contention, with several lawyers sounding the alarm about its potential drawbacks.
An investigation conducted by CTV News found that a medical marijuana user tested positive for THC, the active ingredient in pot, about 10 hours after the last time he'd used.
Vancouver defence lawyer Paul Doroshenko put on a demonstration for local media earlier this month aimed at pointing out the device's flaws, namely the amount of time it takes to actually provide a result.
Police in the city say they will receive the Dräger 5000 and begin familiarizing themselves with the device, but they "do not have immediate plans to utilize the device operationally."
"The VPD will continue to detect drug impaired drivers through officers trained in Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST) and qualified Drug Recognition Experts (DRE)," Sgt. Jason Robillard said in a statement.
Delta Police Chief Neil Dubord said his force will likely receive the units in the spring or summer of 2019, adding that it "will give us another tool, but that's not the sole answer."
The RCMP also told CTV News earlier this month that despite the incoming Dräger units, “the use of Standardized Field Sobriety Test training and Drug Recognition Experts will continue to be the primary enforcement tools against drug-impaired drivers.”
Anxiety over other key issues
Data from the Angus Reid poll also suggest there is widespread concern about cannabis consumption among youth.
Even among those who support legalization, 41 per cent said they believed the government will fail at keeping pot out of the hands of minors. Those against C-45 had an overwhelmingly negative response to the question at 84 per cent.
In B.C., 44 per cent of respondents said they believe legalization will benefit their communities economically.
On the other hand, 60 per cent of those in the province agreed that "marijuana legalization will do more harm than good in my community."
B.C. was the only province surveyed where residents who said their government is prepared for legalization (48 per cent) outnumbered those who said the government isn't ready (40 per cent).
The survey was conducted using an online questionnaire between Sept. 4 and Sept. 7 among a group of 1,500 randomized Canadian adults who are part of the Angus Reid forum. According to the institute, the results carry a 2.5 per cent margin of error, 19 times out of 20.
With files from CTV Vancouver's Bhinder Sajan