Canada: Police Spread Too Thin To Enforce Public Cannabis Use Bylaw, Union Says

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Officers won’t have enough time or resources to enforce the city’s proposed public cannabis use bylaw once recreational marijuana consumption becomes legal later this year, Calgary’s police union boss says.

Les Kaminski, Calgary Police Association president, said police are “working at maximum capacity,” city bylaw officers are already “overwhelmed,” and ticketing Calgarians for public cannabis use will end up taking a backseat to more urgent police matters.

Under the city’s proposed rules going to a council committee next week, cannabis use would be largely limited to private homes or designated areas at public events.

While medical cannabis users would be exempt from the public ban, the city’s recommendations are more strict than those put down by the province, which would allow cannabis to be smoked, vaped or consumed on sidewalks and in public parks.

“If anybody thinks we’re going to be driving around looking for people that are smoking pot out in the street, that’s not going to happen,” Kaminski said.

Kaminski likened the proposed cannabis use bylaw to the city’s smoking bylaw, saying officers “see people breaking that smoking bylaw all the time,” but stopping to issue a cannabis ticket won’t be “worth the time and effort if you’re going to something that’s far more pressing.”

Under Calgary’s proposed bylaw, breaking the public consumption ban could result in fines ranging from $50 to $100. But penalties around smoking tobacco, particularly improperly disposing of a cigarette, can carry up to a $1,000 ticket.

Kaminski said the high cost of breaking the smoking bylaw is a deterrent, while the low price tag of breaking the proposed cannabis bylaw will do little to dissuade public use.

“Getting a $50 fine I think is more of an inconvenience factor and, quite frankly, I don’t think police will be using it as a deterrent factor,” Kaminski said.

“It’s like speeding … everybody speeds, they take their chances. When they do get a ticket, they get a ticket, and I think that’s probably how it’s going to be looked at.”

Coun. Ward Sutherland, who also sits on the Calgary Police Commission, said the city has asked for additional funding from the province to hire additional law enforcement to deal with the upcoming cannabis legalization.

“They’ve determined the largest costs is going to be for municipalities dealing with cannabis … so we’re the ones that are going to bear all the burden to it, so that’s why we’re asking for the majority of the tax money to go through so we can actually pay for enforcement.”

Sutherland agreed with Kaminski’s comments on potential fines for public cannabis use being too low, saying the cost for breaking the tobacco and cannabis use bylaws should be the same.

“That’s something we’re going to have debate about and suggest because that will be one of my questions,” he said. “It’s working on the other end, so why are we having this reduction? It doesn’t make sense.”

Similar regulations to Calgary’s proposed bylaw were put on the books in Denver after the U.S. state of Colorado made recreational cannabis consumption legal in 2012.

Public consumption in Denver is illegal unless in a permit-approved area and Lt. Andrew Howard, a member of the Denver Police Department’s vice and drug control bureau, said ticketing has actually gone down since cannabis was made legal.

“I really can’t tell you why,” he said. “Is this some thing that now maybe their smoking at home? I don’t know why.”

Reduced ticketing aside, Howard said the overall toll on cannabis enforcement has increased since legalization, in particular when it comes to illegal grow ops shipping their products out-of-state.

“(Illegal cannabis operations have) not decreased, the public consumption citations have decreased — but don’t confuse that at all with the fact that it’s legal now, that it actually frees up police to do other things because it really, really hasn’t.”

He said black market operations pose the biggest cannabis-related challenge law enforcement in Denver, but added Canadian cities might not experience the same problem because, unlike the U.S., Canadian legalization will be nation-wide.