As the provincial and federal governments move forward with legislation to legalize marijuana by next summer, Sudbury's police chief says more training and drug detection equipment are needed to prepare officers.
Chief Paul Pedersen says impaired driving will be one of his biggest concerns when the legislation rolls out in July 2018.
"It's just logical to presume there's going to be more consumption of marijuana once it's legal," he says.
Pedersen says there aren't currently any tools to detect the presence of marijuana and other narcotics in drivers.
Police also have to be sent to Florida to receive training on roadside detection of drug impairment — a process that's not only squeezing cash-strapped police services across the province, but also pulls officers off the roads.
"The province and federal government have said that not only that equipment [to detect impairment] will be in place, but training will be in place."
"Candidly, we sit with our fingers crossed," he says.
Provincial Police want legalization deadline postponed
Several police forces have said they won't be ready to enforce the new laws by next summer, and want more time. Ontario Provincial Police are asking for the July 2018 deadline to be postponed, to give police more time to prepare their officers.
Pedersen says the timeline will pose a challenge, but he's confident Sudbury police will meet that challenge going forward if the province provides sufficient resources.
"We don't have the same access to resources, or access to funding. Every year police budgets are under careful scrutiny and every year I say there are things that drive up the costs of policing."
"[Costs for] training, equipment, are all beyond our control," he says. "I'm hopeful there's a scheme in place allowing us to get our fair share of resources."
Police to focus on organized crime, harm-reduction
Pedersen is also hopeful that along with legalization, the province can keep up with the market's demand for marijuana.
"Right now the supply is being filled by organized crime. To think that just opening up some provincial stores will be sufficient for demand might be naive," Pedersen says. "And to think organized crime is going to say 'we're out of that business, time to get a job,' is also naive."
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Pedersen says his team has already been shifting away from individual enforcement, toward a harm-reduction approach to possession of marijuana.
"We've tried to move higher up the food chain and use enforcement to get that which poses the greater risk to our communities," he says. "Those that are dealing in opioids."
Barring a delay in the bill becoming law, Pedersen says Sudbury police will continue to reach out to the community to provide education on the risks associated with narcotic consumption, especially impaired driving.
"The community's priorities are really going to shape our mandate going forward."