A local police chief acknowledges that legal weed is “inevitable,” even though it will create extra work for his officers.
Westville and Stellarton’s top cop Don Hussher said the battle against weed was effectively lost in the 1960s and while prohibition remained in place, penalties for possession steadily dropped over the years.
Starting at an unspecified date later this year, people will be able to smoke weed legally as the federal government moves to legalize it – and Nova Scotia’s government tabled its own Cannabis Control Act Tuesday.
“I think legalization was inevitable, they did it and now we’re going to enter into a new realm of society,” said Hussher.
To prepare for legalization, Hussher’s officers are receiving extra training to detect signs of cannabis intoxication, which will help them catch people driving under the influence of the drug.
Officers must know whether a suspected impaired driver is affected by alcohol, weed, or possibly both.
Anyone convicted of driving while stoned will receive the mandatory minimum sentence for DUI: a $1,000 fine, one-year driving ban and a criminal record for a first offence. Subsequent offences can include jail time.
However, there is no breathalyzer test for stoned drivers, unlike for their drunk counterparts.
Police will likely give stoned motorists a blood test to determine their level of intoxication once they determine they are indeed under the influence of weed.
But lab testing facilities in Atlantic Canada have been cut in recent years, which Hussher said may lead to a backlog of cases.
“It’s going to be an extra workload with limited resources,” said Hussher.
Under the Cannabis Control Act, the drug can only be in a vehicle if it is in a sealed package out of both the driver’s and passengers’ reach. Violators can be fined up to $2,000 and the law also applies to boats.
“This is very important in the prevention of impaired driving by a drug,” said New Glasgow’s police chief Eric MacNeil in an emailed statement Wednesday.
People who sell pot illegally – especially to minors – could be fined up to $10,000.
Those who buy cannabis in Nova Scotia from illicit dealers may be fined up to $250. Minors caught with pot will be fined $150.
Nova Scotians will only be able to buy weed from NSLC stores and those who smoke it will be subject to existing public smoking rules.
But MacNeil said that existing ant-smoking bylaws may not be enough.
“For example, walking on a sidewalk can expose others to secondhand smoke and it will complicate police enforcement. For this, police strongly favour consideration for a designated public space for cannabis consumption as police will notice an increase in enforcement of these regulations,” said MacNeil.
As police prepare, Hussher said that public education and awareness is still needed.
He echoed local Progressive Conservatives MLAs yesterday, who warned that weed users under 25 are at increased risk of schizophrenia and other ill effects.
This is because the brain’s frontal lobe is not fully developed until about age 25.
But the province has set the legal buying age at 19, despite objections from medical experts.