As pot legalization looms, Winnipeg drug unit will shift focus to meth, fentanyl: police chief

Winnipeg's police chief says there will be some transitioning in his drug units as the date to legalize marijuana comes closer.

Police Chief Danny Smyth calls for more low-cost treatment options for those who need help

The focus for police on methamphetamine and fentanyl has less to do with the upcoming legalization of pot and more to do with the sudden availability of inexpensive meth, police Chief Danny Smyth says. (CBC)

Winnipeg's police chief says there will be some transitioning in his drug units as the legalized use of recreational marijuana in Canada comes closer.

Chief Danny Smyth told media Friday that police are making changes to focus more on the surge of methamphetamine and fentanyl on Winnipeg's streets.

"We have a dedicated marijuana grow team, for example, and over time we will transition them away from that focus," said Smyth. "We're really trying to adapt to the environment that's seen the emergence of meth profoundly in our community."

The federal government is moving toward cannabis legalization this summer. It will be sold as a substance regulated, like alcohol, by each provincial government.

Manitoba's rules say that people will have to be 19 years or older to purchase it and they won't be allowed to grow pot at home unless they have a medicinal usage licence.

The focus for police on meth and fentanyl has less to do with pot and more to do with the sudden availability of inexpensive meth, Smyth says.

"Meth has become very cheap and a lot of people are getting into it that probably wouldn't have 10 years ago," he said. "So we're kind of cobbling our resources and deploying them in a different way."

Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth says he wants the service's drug units to transition away from busting grow-ops and enforcing pot rules to focus more on methamphetamine and fentanyl use in the city. (Bartley Kives/CBC)

He says the new focus will involve "a combination of our street crime unit, our marijuana grow team, which will be sort of redeployed to be more encompassing with opioids and meth as well, along with our organized crime unit."

The goal is eventually to transition away from busting grow-ops and enforcing pot rules, said Smyth.

"I look at it like liquor. We don't do liquor inspections, we don't do liquor enforcement, or we do very little liquor enforcement. I expect over time that other agencies will do that kind of regulatory work."

Ultimately, said Smyth, drugs are a health issue. While he said police have a role to play in stopping their use, he called for more treatment options.

"When people do get to that point when they want to get out of this, there's not a lot of affordable treatment available to people. So it does need to be approached more holistically."

Smyth also said he doesn't believe legalized cannabis will result in skyrocketing policing costs.

"I think this year will be an interesting year to watch," he said.

"There'll be some churn, of course, because we're all kind of heading down this journey together.… I don't know that there'll be more cost associated to the police."

With files from Bartley Kives