by Robert Washburn
With the legalization of recreational marijuana coming in October, the Cobourg police force says it is ready for the changes.
Deputy Chief Paul VandeGraaf said Wednesday his officers and staff are, in fact, leaders in the province when it comes to enforcing the various laws surrounding the use of recreational cannabis.
Two officers from the force were some of the first to receive training in 2016 on impaired driving when under the influence of weed. Those same officers are now travelling across the province training other police forces.
The tests are similar to those used for impaired driving. The curbside test will determine quickly if an individual is potentially under the influence. And, just like a RIDE check, the person will be asked to return to the station for further testing. This aspect is done by highly qualified officers who do more scientific tests. There are two officers in Northumberland County; both are from Cobourg, who are already trained in these in-depth procedures, with a third OPP officer coming on stream before the October deadline, VandeGraaf said.
He said his most significant concern is the impact legalization will have on driving. While there may be other areas of enforcement where police will need to adapt, those driving under the influence of marijuana are worrisome, he said.
Traffic enforcement is critical since it represents one of the areas that will affect the public, he
“Road safety is the first,” VandeGraaf said. “Even with all of the education and all of the work we put in, most people are aware of the dangers (of driving under the influence). But there are always those who won’t change.”
The Cobourg police will be launching a public education campaign this fall, along with an increase in RIDE checks after the legalization date arrives on October. 17. The goal is to help people understand the dangers of driving while high. There will also be other initiatives aimed
at adults and young people, especially those under 35. They are known to receive the highest number of impaired charges under the current drinking and driving laws.
The educational component is not only aimed at drivers. There will also be presentations done at local school and businesses. Many employers have contacted the police to speak to human resources managers and other managers to figure out how the legalization will affect workers, particularly when it comes to health and safety regulations, he said.
But when it comes to recreational use, it will be up to the town to decide what bylaws and regulations will be created. Municipalities are responsible for many aspects of the implementation, covering everything from zoning to public consumption.
“What many people don’t understand it smoking cannabis in public is not allowed,” VandeGraaf said. “You can’t just walk around smoking (a joint) as you walk down the street.”
It will be important for the public to understand all the do’s and don’ts, he said.
There are also concerns about shops being set up to sell paraphernalia, but also trying to sell medicinal cannabis, as well as recreational weed. The province is the only distributor through the Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation, a subsidiary of the LCBO. The provincial government will open 40 stores across the province, but no locations were announced for Northumberland
As for other offenses, VandeGraaf said officers would be directed to enforce local bylaws and provincial statues.