Pot shop raids 'highly unlikely' on Wednesday, says head of police chiefs
VANCOUVER - The head of Canada's police chiefs says departments across the country are fully prepared for marijuana legalization on Wednesday, but there won't be a dramatic change in enforcement right away.
Vancouver Chief Const. Adam Palmer, who is president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, says he hasn't heard of any police departments planning raids of illegal dispensaries the day pot becomes legal.
“I find it highly unlikely that anybody is going to be doing a big crackdown on Day 1,” he said at a news conference Monday.
“Oct. 17 is going to come and then Oct. 18 and then Oct. 19, and you're probably not going to see a whole big change with regard to what the police are doing or what anybody else is doing.”
Enforcement against unlicensed marijuana stores will primarily fall to provinces, which are using inspectors to levy fines as they do with illegal liquor sellers. However, Palmer says police and city officials will work with them.
Provincial approval of cannabis stores varies. British Columbia is expected to have one legal shop open on Wednesday, while dozens of illegal pot stores have operated for years and some plan to stay open despite a lack of approval. Ontario will have no legal brick-and-mortar outlets but will have an online store.
Many stores that are operating illegally are planning to scale back because they don't want to jeopardize their chances of getting a provincial licence, Palmer said.
But he added that he's not concerned about Canadians losing access to cannabis. Statistics Canada found 16 per cent of Canadians, or 4.6 million people, have consumed marijuana in the last three months, Palmer noted.
“Unless they're medicinal marijuana users who got it from a government source, almost all of those people have got it from illegal sources,” he said.
“So with millions of Canadians using an illicit drug supply for decades and decades in our country, when the law changes on the 17th you're not going to see a big change overnight.”
Canadians are heading into “uncharted waters” this week, but police are ready because they have been policing cannabis-impaired drivers and illicit grow-ops for years, Palmer said.
Some police agencies, including Vancouver and Ottawa, have decided against using the federally approved Drager DrugTest 5000 roadside device that tests saliva for the presence of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
But Palmer said there are 13,000 officers trained in standard field sobriety testing in Canada and that number is expected to rise to 20,000 in the next several years. In addition, there are 833 certified drug recognition experts and 500 more are expected to be trained in the coming years.
He said police likely won't focus on shutting down boutique grow-ops that are waiting for federal micro-cultivator licences, and instead will prioritize shutting down the black market.
Organized crime continues to be heavily involved in the whole drug market, including marijuana, he said.
“We're hoping that with the new laws and regulations that they will be able to eliminate them significantly.”
Vancouver police have long chosen not to crack down on illegal dispensaries unless they are suspected of organized crime connections or selling to minors. This stands in contrast with Toronto police, which carried out sweeping raids of pot shops in 2016.
Palmer said it's good that departments now have clear direction from Ottawa on the law and the roles of the three levels of government and police.
“I think it'll be clear lines as opposed to the grey area that we've been operating in for a number of years in Vancouver,” he said.
“Marijuana is important, but it is not the most important thing going on in the country right now. Fentanyl, for example, kills 11 Canadians a day. Marijuana certainly doesn't. There are more pressing issues going on in public safety.”