By Kent MacDonald
Special to The News
New Glasgow, NS
A police officer who works in New Glasgow’s street crime unit says he is unsure if the legalization of cannabis will make the world a better place.
But one thing Sgt. Ryan Leil of the Pictou County Integrated Street Crime Unit is sure of is that public opinion about cannabis has changed over the last 10 years.
“I think we started to see a shift in society’s position on cannabis marijuana the minute the liberal platform in the previous federal election said one of our main objectives is to legalize cannabis marijuana,” he said. “That really changed how society viewed cannabis because it said, okay the government who sets the regulations and tells us what’s safe and not safe. They said they’re going to legalize it. I think the shift and I think the influence of how we prioritized cannabis investigations happened long before today.”
It is has also changed how police do their job.
“Any complaint we receive we have to investigate it, but we have to prioritize resources.”
So, if you thought police would banging down your door out of nowhere you were sadly mistaken in that regard.
“We do have investigations that are involving substances that possess a greater risk to public safety and we are talking about synthetic drugs.”
He believes the legalization of marijuana has created a large divide in the areas of safety of drug users. While cannabis users can now safely buy federally regulated products, other drugs such as heroin and cocaine are still illegal so a user will still have to go into alleyways or drug dealer’s basements or other unsafe locations not knowing if what they are ingesting is laced with something due to it not being regulated by the government.
He thinks that it’s possible that the legalization of marijuana could pave the way for harder drugs to be legalized.
“One of the biggest justifications from the federal government was to take those profits away from organized crime and to alleviate people opting to go buy cannabis,” Leil said. “So, if that is one of the foundation or major motivating factors in legalizing cannabis can we not say the same about every other controlled substance? So, are we saying that we value the safety of cannabis users more than the safety of cocaine and heroin users?”
To all of this the question of will we see this happen arises and to that Leil said “No, I don't think that is the direction that we’re going and I can’t say whether that's the direction we should go or should not go either because I don't know. I don't have enough information today.”
But there are still many questions that surround the topic and more research to be done.
“If I knew definitively obviously – and anybody would make this long logical choice – if I knew definitively that decriminalizing the possession of controlled substances would make for a far safer society, I would say do it today.”
Like in all things in life, history tends to repeat itself and if we go on the history of the first state that legalized cannabis which is Colorado, then what we see is somewhat worrisome, Leil said.
“I don't have the numbers in front of me but the occurrences of police investigations of impaired driving by marijuana skyrocketed.”
According to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the number of drivers in fatal accidents who tested positive for marijuana had risen by 145 per cent between 2013 and 2016.
While police expect an initial spike in people using marijuana for the first time as a novelty, Leil believes we’ll have to wait to see the long-term impacts and how society responds.
“It was not Armageddon at midnight. The world did not stop turning. We’re going to monitor it.”
The Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation (NSLC), says that the province conducted 12,180 transactions during the province’s first day of business in the legal cannabis game.
The transactions have totaled “just over $660,000 in sales” and that almost $47,000 of those sales were online.