Even with marijuana legalization looming, Halifax Regional Police will not be altering their approach to the enforcement of marijuana laws.
“Just because we may get to the point in this country where marijuana possession is legal, doesn’t mean that it’s a free-for-all,” deputy chief Bill Moore said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected on Oct. 19 with a campaign promise of legalizing marijuana. Trudeau has since tasked former Toronto police chief Bill Blair with beginning the process.
“We don’t normally bend to political will in policing,” Moore said. “We do understand that we police in a context of our society, so clearly there’s a bit of a movement in relation to where marijuana sits in the continuum.”
Since November, the department says it has arrested 126 people in Halifax for marijuana possession, with 11 of those people being charged. Meanwhile, 17 people were arrested for marijuana trafficking, with nine being charged.
Those numbers are down slightly from the previous three months before Trudeau was elected.
“We understand that this is a broader social question in the country,” Moore said. “We have taken a more liberal approach in relation to our prosecution for low-level possessions.”
Moore says the department is not intent on locking people up for marijuana possession. Instead, it encourages officers to use their own discretion.
“We’re not going into people’s private homes and arresting them for smoking in their basement,” Moore said. “Where we’re getting people is they’re driving a car, at a public place, at a public park and those kind of things.”
“We spend our time on those who are trafficking,” Moore said. “Especially those who are trafficking and using some level of violence.”
Chris Henderson, the owner of High Life Cafe on Spring Garden Road, says he is not worried about running into problems with the police.
“This is just a place for people who are adults to bring their own medicine and use it as they see fit in a safe environment,” Henderson said.
Moore says the department must look at each of these businesses separately.
“Each one we have to look at on their own merits,” Moore said. “There’s a recognition that we’re in the middle of a change in the regulatory environment.”
The deputy chief says there is a legal grey zone concerning these dispensaries.
“There are those who believe in an altruistic purpose that they’re able to provide to anybody who wants it,” Moore said. “Unfortunately that’s not what the law of Canada says today.”
Many of the dispensaries are operating within the law and Moore says there will be no problems for them unless they start to break it.
“If you’re going to be a commercial enterprise that’s violating the regulatory and Criminal Code aspects, then you could expect a visit from us,” Moore said.
Henderson outlined several of the benefits to marijuana legalization, such as the economic benefit for the government. He said putting it in a retail setting like a liquor store could make the population more comfortable with the drug’s legality.
“A lot of people don’t use cannabis and don’t care about (the legality of it),” Henderson said. “We have to show them we can be responsible with retail and there’s not going to be any harm that comes from it.”
Until there is new action from Ottawa, Moore says the police department will not change its approach.
“We need to make sure we’re dealing with it from a safety perspective and protecting those who are most vulnerable,” Moore said.
Moore says it’s important for Ottawa to get the details right if it legalizes marijuana. He says it will be important to focus on regulation, age and laws for driving.