Alberta police chiefs concerned pace of pot legalization will lead to more youth use and impaired driving

Dependency on alcohol or marijuana had a bigger impact on boys, study finds. David Sutherland / Getty Images

The Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police (AACP) says there’s not enough time before the federal legalization of marijuana to ensure the safety of Albertans.

In an open letter to Alberta residents, AACP president Andy McGrogan highlighted access by young people, road safety, organized crime influence and online sales and distribution as the association’s four primary concerns.

READ MORE: What to expect as pot legislation is tabled in the House of Commons

McGrogan referenced research that suggests consumption of marijuana by youth negatively impacts their mental development.

“The AACP encourages the government to approach the use and consumption of cannabis products in the same fashion as the use and consumption of alcohol,” McGrogan wrote.

“Regulations that restrict public consumption will minimize exposure to young people and decrease public disorder.”

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In regards to impaired driving, the AACP is concerned how officers will enforce cannabis impaired driving laws.

“The science related to impairment due to cannabis use is unresolved, and the federal government has yet to approve instruments that would objectively measure impairment,” McGrogan wrote.

Edmonton police chief Rod Knecht echoed those concerns Thursday. He’s a member of the AACP and has been involved in meetings with the Alberta justice minister for the past three days, discussing the concerns.

“We don’t have a test available to measure impaired driving. I think that’s going to cause serious consequences,” he said. “If we don’t have a good test to test for impaired driving under various drugs, people are going to plead not guilty and that plugs up the system, that means police officers attending court. There’s going to be a huge impact on the criminal justice system.”

Knecht also raised concerns about the timelines police and other organizations are working with ahead of the July 1 legalization.

“The timelines are super tight, particularly when we don’t have a test here,” he said. “When we were talking about them with the minister and in our conversations thereafter, we felt a little overwhelmed from a policing perspective.”

In October, Canada’s health minister said pilot projects have begun on roadside police testing for marijuana, and the plan is to have rules in place for edible cannabis around July 2019.

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“Our priority right now is to ensure that we can legalize cannabis by July 2018,” Ginette Petitpas Taylor said.

“There’s no specific date (for edibles to be available), but I would say if you look a year after the legalization, that is the window that we’re giving ourselves.”

READ MORE: Alberta introducing rules to align with federal cannabis legalization plan

On Tuesday, Alberta Transportation Minister Brian Mason introduced Bill 29 to align with the federal cannabis legalization plan.

The new Criminal Code rules would see a fine for a driver with less than five nanograms of THC, the cannabis compound that gives the user a “high” in their bloodstream. Stiffer fines and eventually mandatory jail time could be imposed for those caught with five nanograms or more.

Bill 29 would also have a fixed-term suspension of 90 days, but it could be extended to a year if the driver doesn’t agree to participate in an ignition interlock program, at a cost of $1,400.

READ MORE: Alberta government details pot plan, proposes 18 as minimum age

The association is also expressing concern about how the sale of the drug will be regulated. It’s encouraging the Alberta government “to create laws and regulations ensuring organized crime cannot infiltrate private outlet distribution of cannabis products.”

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AACP believes online sales is one way youth could buy marijuana illegally and be exposed to organized crime. The association is asking the province to create regulations to make sure that doesn’t happen.

The association is calling on Albertans to share their concerns with all three levels of government.

READ MORE: Alberta’s proposed cannabis legislation includes mix of private and public sales

The federal government plans to make marijuana legal across Canada by July 1, 2018.

— With files from The Canadian Press 

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