A Policing Perspective: The Legalization of Marihuana – A Student Blog
Firstly, I will open with the caveat that these viewpoints represent those of me personally and do not in anyway reflect those of any police service or even police in general.
I have often been asked in my police career my thoughts on marihuana, whether I think it should be legalized, whether I think people currently in possession of it should be charged, etc.
As far as the legalization, ultimately I am indifferent. I generally tell people that it is up to the Members of Parliament to enact the legislation and my role as a police officer is simply to enforce the law. If one is to believe that the democratic system works properly, then Parliament represents the voice of the majority of Canadians and in speaking for Canadians, if they opt to legalize something then I consider this the will of the people, so to speak.
Where I do have concerns however, is in regards to some areas surrounding its legalization. The first of these areas is impaired driving. In most cases, if someone is impaired by alcohol, there are a variety of ways to detect this. The easiest way to tell if someone has consumed liquor is the mere odour of their breath. However, if someone smokes marihuana outside of a vehicle and then gets in and drives, any sort of odour is unlikely to be present.
Additionally, in regards to alcohol, police have access to Approved Screening Devices (ASD), essentially roadside breathalyzers that give an indication of a range of alcohol in the driver’s blood. The ASD results are not admissible as evidence and do not give a specific reading like an actual breathalyzer does, but are still a great tool for police in helping to determine an approximation of a driver’s blood alcohol concentration. Presently, I am not aware of any marihuana breathalyzer in existence although I do understand some individuals may be working on these. I anticipate a steady stream of litigation taking place in the courts the next few years regarding cases about driving while impaired by drugs.
My next concern is with the impact of marihuana on the developing brains of young people. The research appears to still be inconclusive in this regard and without enough long-term studies, the potential negative impact on developing brains remains unknown.
Additionally, I am concerned with the lack of literature overall regarding any long-term health effects from regular marihuana use. While there is an argument to be made for individual autonomy of adults, these potential health costs could impact every Canadian tax payer.
That takes us to the issue of taxation and pricing. Personally, I feel that marihuana should be heavily taxed. I should note I feel the same way about other things such as tobacco, alcohol, and high-fructose corn syrup. This becomes a problem with marihuana however because the government needs to ensure that it is properly taxed while not pricing itself out of the market.
If the price of marihuana is $15 or $20 per gram, are people going to be willing to pay those prices at the store? That may not seem too extravagant but the question then becomes, will people be able to buy their marihuana in bulk? If not, that will leave the price of an ounce of marihuana between $420 - $560. That number is a few hundred dollars more than what someone could currently purchase an ounce of marihuana for on the street.
As such, I am not necessarily convinced that the legalization of marihuana will have a noticeable impact on the number of individuals currently trafficking marihuana, particularly if someone can purchase an ounce for hundreds of dollars less from a street dealer than from the government. If there is a demand for cheaper marihuana, there will be a supply and there may still be money to be made by organized crime.
I am curious how the courts will treat those accused of trafficking in marihuana once it is legalized. Will there be stricter penalties and stiffer punishments than there are now because there will now be a legal way to obtain it? Or will it be treated more akin to selling illegal tobacco, the result of which in my experience is seemingly often just a fine.
Ultimately, it appears as if we are on the verge of the legalization of marihuana in Canada. However, there are still several unanswered questions and it will be very interesting to watch over the next few years the impact this has on the courts and in the communities.