This police force plans to drop at least $20-million to enforce legal weed

It's over two years. York Regional Police say most of the money will go to cracking down on impaired driving and the black market.
September 19, 2018, 7:30pm

A Toronto-area police force expects to spend more than $20 million to enforce legal weed laws over the next two years, and about $7 million more on enforcement every year after that. Most of the money is earmarked for cracking down on impaired driving and rooting out any remaining black market businesses after legalization comes into effect on October 17th.

The figures are contained in a report produced by York Regional Police in February 2018, and obtained by VICE News through a freedom of information request.

The report, Financial Implications of the Cannabis Act, provides a detailed breakdown of the projected costs of policing legal cannabis in York region, part of the Greater Toronto Area, and covers everything from investigating illegal pot dealers to educating kids about cannabis in school to drawing blood from drivers suspected of being high.

One of the first subjects raised in the report is “Experiences of Other Jurisdictions”, which lays out a summary of findings of research exploring the aftermath of cannabis legalization in Colorado and Washington state.

Despite assurances by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that legalizing pot in Canada is a way to take the product out of the hands of criminals, police in York region believe that legalization “will not eliminate the prevalence of organized crime in the production, distribution and sale of cannabis. It points to the experience of police in the U.S., before adding that an “increase in demand for police resources for cannabis-related enforcement” and a spike in driving-related offenses can all be expected once weed is legal in Canada.

Of the $20.2 million YRP expects to spend between 2018 and 2020 on enforcing cannabis laws, about $7 million of that falls into a “mandatory” category, most of which will be used to pay for training for officers to evaluate cannabis impairment in the field and on the road. This amount also includes the costs of buying roadside THC testing devices and familiarizing police with new cannabis laws.

Another $4 million are the “anticipated costs” of police responding to an expected uptick in conventional crimes after legalization, including car crashes, personal injuries, robberies and thefts, among others.

These anticipated costs appear to be based on a reference in the report to research done in Colorado that found there was between a 6 and 12 percent increase in criminal activity in the state after legalization took effect.

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However, a growing body of research suggests that, if anything, legalization has led to a decrease in violent and other crimes in Colorado and Washington state. Research conducted by the US-based non-profit Drug Policy Alliance found that in the first year after cannabis was legalized, Colorado experienced a 2.2 percent drop in violent crime and a nearly 9 percent decrease in property crimes.

YRP also have a “best practices” category of expenditure, which amounts to $9 million to combat illegal pot producers and sellers, enforce road safety, and buy new vehicles and equipment through 2020. About $25,000 will go to pay for processing blood samples taken from drivers suspected of using cannabis, and $70,000 is set aside for educating young people about cannabis in schools.

YRP will be providing cannabis education via School Resource Officers, who infamously “educated” high school students in York region with false and misleading information about cannabis earlier this year.

Finally, the police force has reserved a section for “unknown costs” related to overtime, returning unlawfully seized property to rightful owners, and court operations.

The report also contains insights about the presence of organized crime in the legal cannabis regime.

According to the report, “300 criminal organizations” are currently involved in producing and distributing illegal cannabis in Canada, with the highest concentration of activity in Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec.

The report also states that criminals are “embedded in the medical [cannabis] framework” - an assertion denied by Health Canada.

“Since the inception of the regime for access to cannabis for medical purposes in 2013, Health Canada has had no evidence that organized crime has infiltrated any of the more than 100 federally licensed producers, and no evidence of diversion of cannabis from licensed facilities,” Health Canada said in a statement to VICE News.

Statistics in the report also show how York Regional Police are handling cannabis crimes while the substance is still illegal.

In 2017, three quarters of people arrested for possession of marijuana in York region were released without charges.

Of those who were charged with possession, 28 percent were minors, while nearly 40 percent of those charged with trafficking cannabis were underage.

Cover image by VICE