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‘I’m impressed’: Sask. police see little change since cannabis legalization

WATCH: Global News looked at a year of pot on the Prairies on the first anniversary of cannabis legalization.

It’s been a year to the day since the legalization of cannabis in Canada and in Saskatchewan, not much has changed.

“I’m impressed. Generally, I think our police service has seen that people have been responsible with the use of cannabis,” said Evan Bray, Regina police chief.

“We haven’t seen any real escalation in the number of calls for service, the number of impaired drivers, and the amount of public consumption which is a real positive thing.”

READ MORE: 40% of Canadian marijuana users bought it illegally even after legalization: StatCan

When it comes to people driving high, Bray said they haven’t made any charges to date.

“We have had a couple of impaired drivers where we expect it’s been impairment due to both, alcohol and cannabis, but there are no impaired driving charges strictly due to cannabis,” Bray said.

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He said they have had to issue tickets under the Saskatchewan Cannabis Act, to minors possessing and consuming cannabis, adults possessing more than the regulated amount and possessing cannabis in a vehicle.

READ MORE: A look at Canada’s first 4-20 celebrations since legalization

But overall, Criminal Code cannabis charges have decreased from 2017 to 2018, something they were hoping for.

“[We wanted] to better regulate it, protect youth, to ensure the product is safer for consumption and to reduce the load on both the justice system and police,” Bray said.

He said it’s goal that’s been achieved.

Dealing with the black market

Despite the positive outlook throughout legalization, the city is still dealing with illegal dispensaries, shutting down four shops in September.

“We’ve consistently showed that if we learn of illegal cannabis sales happening in the city, in a location where a license is not possessed, that we will take enforcement action,” Bray said.

As for the entire black market including street sales, Bray said it’s “obvious” it’s still happening, but understands it’s a problem across the country, not just in Regina.

READ MORE: Cannabis store owner links black market to slow Sask. sales

He said their [Regina police] focus is more on the drugs that cause greater problems in the community.

“The real challenge for us, is that drug issues are common in our city and our focus is typically on meth, opioids and those types of drugs,” Bray said.

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“You need to understand, we have somewhat limit capacity to deal with the overall drug issue in the city. You hear me talk day in and day out about the challenges that meth causes and that is predominantly our focus.”

Comparing illegal and legal cannabis prices

According to a recent Statistics Canada study, only 29 per cent of cannabis users get their product legally, while four out 10 Canada bought illegal pot products between April and June, 2019.

“This was a known phenomenon. This was something that was predicted by most economist working in the area,” said Jason Childs, University of Regina economics associate professor.

Childs believe it’s due to the significant gap between legal and illegal prices.

READ MORE: Cannabis taxes brought in $186 million in five and a half months

StatCan claims the average price from a government-approved retailer is just more than $10 per gram, compared to the black market price of just under $6.

“We aren’t seeing, which is unfortunate, the legal market follow suit, following the illicit markets downward,” Childs said.

He said because of supply issues over the past year, retailers aren’t holding their product long enough to be in a position of having to significantly reduce prices.

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READ MORE: Only 44 Canadians have been given cannabis pardons under new system

“As a retailer, why would you reduce the price? If I’m selling everything I can get in, there’s no advantage of cutting the price,” Childs said.

“We haven’t seen legal production ramp up maybe the way we were hoping or expecting it to.”

Childs said that is part in due to regulation, including the “long, expensive process” of becoming a licensed producer or grower.

Cannabis edibles, extracts and topical now legal

The one year anniversary of legalization doesn’t only bring a sense of optimism, it also comes with new legislation.

Cannabis edibles, extracts and topical are all legal as of Thursday.

Although legal, these types of products aren’t expected to hit retail until sometime in December.

For now, Regina police are reminding the public to be cautious when consuming edibles.

“If you’re a recreational user, understand that consuming it through an edible affects everybody differently than consuming it by smoking,” Bray said.

“Just because you can smoke and do something, it doesn’t mean eating it will have the same effect. Sometimes it takes longer to absorb in your body.”

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In terms of policing, Bray said the rules are the same when it comes to operating a vehicle and consumption in public.

The Saskatchewan government shares that message and said they are always working to ensure public safety.

“There’s been a lot of work done both federally and provincially through Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI) in [promoting] responsible use,” said Gene Makowsky, minister for liquor and gaming.

“We want to ensure that our roadways are safe and we don’t want anybody impaired driving out there. It’s certainly been a focus of SGI whether it’s on the alcohol side or cannabis side.”