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Edmonton expecting cannabis policing costs to get worse: report

May 15: Police say cannabis extraction labs are causing residential explosions in Edmonton and calling on people to report anything suspicious. Fletcher Kent reports.

An increase in impaired driving charges, a pair of house explosions and a rash of illegal cannabis products seized through Canada Post have all happened in 2019. And Edmonton police anticipate that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

A city-authored report released Thursday, heading to the Oct. 16 meeting of city council’s Community and Public Services Committee, anticipates the onset of edible cannabis will only make things worse.

READ MORE: Cannabis extraction labs causing residential explosions in Edmonton

Edmonton police made a $1.4-million budget request last year for cannabis-related issues. It was turned down by city council in part because the supply was limited after the AGLC curtailed sales licences through retail stores.

That moratorium has since been lifted and eventually edible products will be on the market.

READ MORE: AGLC lifts moratorium on new retail cannabis licences

“With edibles, comes a demand for it,” said Councillor Sarah Hamilton, who chairs the committee and is a member of the Edmonton Police Commission.

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“Per the federal government, we will not see edibles on the market on Oct. 17, it’s when the manufacturing of edibles can start.”

READ MORE: 8 Edmonton businesses fined for selling cannabis products illegally

The fear, she told Global News, is homemade and illegally obtained products with THC will enter the market after the one-year lag period in federal legislation between when cannabis was first made legal, and the second stage with edible products.

“There will be the ability to have them but there won’t be any legally available, so I think it is a risk we have to watch for.”

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The report details a growing concern for what is known as “shatter” — an illicit cannabis derivative. Shatter is up to four times more potent than the cannabis products currently available through retail sales.

READ MORE: Edmonton police launch ‘put your skunk in the trunk’ cannabis campaign

For the first time, police are seeing an increase in erratic and dangerous behaviour by users with no previous history with the EPS or the criminal justice system.

The report said as of August 2019, the EPS has arrested 94 drug-impaired drivers compared to 69 over the same period a year ago.

Cannabis impairment factor in fatal Mill Woods crash
Cannabis impairment factor in fatal Mill Woods crash
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City staff are anticipating more increases in public inebriation and even bylaw complaints for things like odor, Hamilton said.

“So far my understanding is we are prepared for that, however I would not be surprised if we hear otherwise at some point, depending on how much of an issue that becomes.”

READ MORE: Cannabis extraction labs causing residential explosions in Edmonton

Edmonton Fire and Rescue Services is also getting more involved.

“On at least two occasions, the clandestine residential labs used to produce shatter have exploded, due to the volatile chemicals used to produce the drug,” the report said.

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Hamilton said she’s been told it’s the use of butane, which can build up in a home, then explode when something innocuous like a light turning on ignites the built-up gas.

The EPS has already investigated several of these labs, hidden across the city, and Hamilton has been told we should expect more.

READ MORE: Edmonton cannabis stores start to run low on legal weed

“Absolutely. Anytime I’ve talked to emergency services or law enforcement, this is something they saw increase in Colorado and they were anticipating they would see in Edmonton.”

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There has been a significant increase in the amount of illegal cannabis seized by the EPS. In the past two months, the EPS seized over $500,000 in illegal cannabis products in partnership with Canadian Postal Inspectors.

READ MORE: Edmonton police shut down illegal cannabis shop, urge businesses to stop rogue sales

Hamilton doesn’t doubt that the EPS will again ask for a budget increase.

“We will hear that when we get there. Right now it says we do not need additional resources so I don’t take that recommendation lightly.

“So far they’ve absorbed those costs but part of this is also contingent on the provincial budget and the policing grant.”

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The report also detailed the difference in investigating an impaired driver, who’s had too much to drink compared to one who’s high on pot. It’s a six-to-one ratio, with pot use taking way longer to process.

“At an average cost per hour of $89.48, the minimum cost to have one police officer deal with a cannabis-impaired driver is $536.88, compared to $89.48 for an alcohol-impaired driver,” the report said. These minimum times and costs do not include time required to prepare reports and attend court.

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