Pot possession charges way down in Sask. as it preps for legalization

Police across Saskatchewan are laying fewer and fewer pot possession charges as the country prepares for legalized marijuana.

Denver police officer says no evidence that domestic violence, intoxicated driving goes up once pot is legal

Henning said there is not enough data to link pot and alcohol with domestic violence — though he does not deny alcohol plays a role. (David Zalubowski/The Associated Press)

Police across Saskatchewan are laying fewer and fewer pot possession charges as the country prepares for legalized marijuana. 

Saskatchewan saw a 16 per cent drop in cannabis possession charges in 2016 compared to 2015, part of a two year trend.

In 2013, for example, police laid 2,156 possession charges. Since then, the numbers have fallen by 36 per cent to 1,384 in 2016. 

Regina saw a 26 per cent drop in cannabis possession charges in 2016 from 2015 while Saskatoon saw the charges fall by 8 per cent. 

Saskatoon Police Chief Clive Weighill says police are laying fewer pot possession charges as legalization looms (CBC News)

"Naturally the impending new legalization of marijuana has a lot to do with that," Saskatoon Police Chief Clive Weighill said. 

"I don't think police are too concerned with somebody that has a couple of joints."

Nationally, the number of cannabis possession charges fell by 12 per cent, according to new data from Statistics Canada. 

No spike in impaired driving, domestic violence: Colorado officer 

Last week, Regina's Police Chief Evan Bray made waves when he suggested the hidden costs of legalized pot could cause domestic abuse problems. 

Bray said alcohol causes problems in domestic relationships and "marijuana is no different" but Denver Police Department Commander James Henning said that is not the case. 

"Since marijuana has been legalized, I don't think we can attribute any increase in domestic violence to marijuana," Henning told CBC Radio's The Morning Edition

While he does not deny that alcohol plays a role in domestic disputes, Henning said there is no way to conclusively link alcohol or marijuana to domestic violence due to the lack of data available on the subject.

Recreational marijuana has been legal in Colorado since 2014 and Henning says policing legal pot can sometimes be even more difficult than policing the illegal trade. 

Henning said there has been no significant spike in impaired driving rates — something politicians in this province have voiced serious concerns about. 

"We had the same fears five years ago. We really thought we'd see a spike in it, but we haven't. That's the good news," he said. 

North of the border, Statistics Canada recently reported an increase of 11 per cent in the rate of drug-impaired driving from 2015 to 2016. Statistics Canada says the rates are still "relatively low," though, and they declined in Saskatchewan.

Strain extends beyond police

Of course, legal pot still poses serious challenges for police and other civic employees.

Henning estimates the City of Denver has hired around 60 more employees just to deal with new issues caused by legal marijuana.

"It's not just about policing, there's issues that affect fire fighting, building inspectors, food inspectors — this is is something that takes out all of city hall," he said. 

I don't think police are too concerned with somebody that has a couple of joints.- Clive Weighill, Saskatoon chief of police

Because Colorado is surrounded by states where marijuana is still illegal, Henning's officers spend a lot of time busting dealers who are trying sell pot across state lines. 

When Canada legalizes weed next July, there won't be the same kind of problems because the pot will be legal across the country, he said.

"I can't buy a bottle of gin in Colorado and take it to New York and triple my money with a bottle of alcohol but I can do that with marijuana," he said, adding a pound of pot could be purchased for about $2,000 in Colorado and then sold for $5,000 in the Empire State.

He expects, however, police in Canada will have their hands full making sure legal marijuana does not make its way south of border. 

He said police here will have to monitor what can become a growing black market once the legal trade is in place. 

With files from CBC Radio's The Morning Edition