Chief Leanne Fitch predicts higher costs for the Fredericton Police Force when marijuana is no longer against the law — at least in the beginning.
Most of the higher costs will be related to impaired drivers and regulatory enforcement, Fitch told a committee of MLAs studying how to regulate sales of the drug.
"It will absolutely have a bearing on budget," she said. "Everything from training costs, the acquisition of technical equipment — these added responsibilities will create more staffing demands."
Many police officers will have to step away from their jobs for extended periods to get training in how recognize when someone is using the drug, Fitch said.
Need special training
Training to become a drug recognition expert takes up to three weeks, and absent officers will have to be backfilled, she said.
Although she was asked, Fitch's remarks did not include what the department spends now on enforcement, when marijuana is illegal, and she said it would be a "shot in the dark" if she were to estimate how much more it will have to spend on the startup costs of legalization.
Some supporters of legalization, including former Toronto police chief Bill Blair, who is now a Liberal MP, have said the change will free up police forces from prosecuting low-level possession cases and allow them to devote resources to more dangerous drugs.
But Fitch said drug enforcement is just one cost associated with the legalization of marijuana.
City has questions
"We're looking at emerging technologies, increased training in Canada," she said. "Currently there are 600 drug recognition experts in Canada, and we are estimating we will be needing 2,000 across Canada."
David Seabrook, assistant director of growth and community services for the City of Fredericton, told the MLAs that the marijuana legalization "burdens" fall mostly on the municipal police force.
"We have a lot of questions about how the municipality can bear the cost of that, how we can train up for that," he said.
"We need to ensure that we're fully prepared and that, quite frankly, we have provided the funding necessary to accomplish it."
The cannabis committee has been touring the province to gather comments about the legalization of marijuana, which is set to happen by next July, and not to share plans for how it will work, since they haven't been fully formed.
Fredericton eyes licensing fees
Seabrook asked the MLAs whether there will be an opportunity for people to get licences to sell marijuana at the community level.
"Is there an opportunity to impose fees for those licences? This would also help offset some costs."
Marijuana revenue from fees, licences and taxes should be shared across all levels of government, "in particular the municipal level that may bear the cost of enforcement," he said.
Friday morning was the last hearing of the committee's hearings before it passes on recommendations to the government.
A report with a summary of the public consultations will be formally submitted on Sept. 1, and the government will take it into account when determining the provincial regulation of cannabis.