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Costs to police legal cannabis still unknown, chief says

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

Legal weed is set to hit Ontario streets this summer, and for DRPS chief Paul Martin, there are still a lot of questions as to just how much that is going to cost the police service.

“I am concerned that the regional taxpayers may end up with a burden that’s been created by a change in legislation both federally and provincially,” Martin said during a recent meeting of the Police Services Board.

“There are a number of issues that we face not only the enforcement of the legislation in the public realm, but also fit-for duty concerns those types of things that may happen within the service itself.”

Martin says that the DRPS have been preparing for the imminent legalization since it was first announced in April of 2017 with a “cross-functional team” that has been working on different potential impacts legalized cannabis could have on the community.

They have also reached out and worked with other regional police forces to gather facts and information. Martin says the DRPS met with York Regional Police to discuss the financial impacts in particular after they funded a study which found the potential cost of legalization on the police force could be approximately $6.9 million, or $15 per capital in York Region.

The study took a holistic approach to legalization looking at not only enforcement, but also health care and bylaw impacts.

There is also the issue of training, and ensuring that police officers can potentially identify people impaired with drugs.

Currently, the DRPS have 90 officers trained in standard field sobriety testing, and have five Drug Recognition Experts (DRE). An additional DRE is expected to be trained by the end of the year.

“We are working very quickly on this, but certainly from our perspective the issue is that there is still a lot of ambiguity about how the legislation will ultimately come out and what the training will look like and if and how the funding will be distributed,” Martin says.

However, some answers to the chief’s questions may have come in the form of an announcement on March 9, when the province shared that they would be allocating $40 million of their share of federal cannabis tax revenue with Ontario municipalities over two years.

According to a press release, the funding will be distributed to Ontario cities on a per household basis and adjusted to ensure that each municipality receives a minimum of $10,000.  The release also notes that if the provincial portion of federal tax revenue from legal cannabis exceeds $100 million over the first two years, the province will provide municipal governments with 50 per cent of the surplus.

“As federal cannabis legalization approaches, we want to ensure Ontarians are protected from the dangers of drug-impaired driving and the sale of illegal, unregulated and potentially unsafe cannabis,” says Yasir Naqvi, the Attorney General of Ontario. “That is why it is so important that our municipal and enforcement partners have the tools they need to take down illegal cannabis stores, better detect impaired drivers and prosecute offenders.”

Originally scheduled to become legal on July 1, recent reports of delays have Chief Martin anticipating the legislation to be approved sometime in August.