A 20-page document obtained by VICE shows the Ontario government's framework to sell legal weed contradicts what its own Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services is saying about enforcement and the black market.
Last month, Ontario revealed that come next year, it will be selling recreational weed through an LCBO-controlled monopoly, with 40 retail stores to start, followed by 80 in 2019 and 150 by 2020. During the announcement, Attorney General Yasir Naqvi said illegal pot dispensaries should consider themselves "on notice" and will be shut down through a proactive enforcement strategy. Ontario also opted to ban all public consumption of cannabis except at private residences and to push the legal age for purchasing and consuming weed up to 19, even though the federal government has set the legal age at 18.
However, VICE has obtained an internal briefing titled "Impacts of Cannabis Legalization on Police" that was presented by the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services (MCSCS) to the Future of Policing Advisory Committee on August 2, 2017. The MCSCS has confirmed the report's authenticity. Many of its points contradict both the policies laid out by Ontario and the federal government.
For all the tough talk from the province, the MCSCS report quite bluntly states "the illegal market will not disappear once cannabis is legalized (e.g. Illegal dispensaries will continue to operate)." In Toronto, the province has said there are 60-80 currently in operation. Many have pointed out that a mere 40 government stores to service a population of 13.6 million is unlikely to make a dent in the black market. It seems the government agrees.
Criminal justice system
One of the federal government's key promises has been to ease the burden of prohibition on the justice system. The federal Liberals' website states that "arresting and prosecuting these offenses is expensive for our criminal justice system" and that prohibition "traps too many Canadians in the criminal justice system for minor, non-violent offenses." However, the MCSCS document clearly says, there's an "anticipated increase in enforcement capacity pressures due to cannabis legalization." This is hardly a surprise, considering the federal government has already promised $274 million for policing and border enforcement related to cannabis legalization, but nonetheless it shows the province is fully aware that legalization won't clear up the backlog in criminal justice system.
Ontario has chosen 19 as the minimum age for purchasing and consuming weed and is also prohibiting people under the age of 19 from possessing any weed, even though the federal weed framework says youth could possess up to five grams without being charged with any crime. According to the MCSCS report there are several issues with Ontario's chosen route. It could force youth under 19 to continue to rely on the black market, and it could result in "border hopping" if the minimum ages differ between provinces. To that end, Quebec last week announced that it will go with 18 as the legal age for buying and consuming weed. The report also said creating a separate provincial offence for youth caught with weed will result in "increasing the complexity in enforcing for police officers." In other words, it will create a further burden on the criminal justice system.
Difficulties in enforcement
The MCSCS briefing outlined a number of aspects of legalization that will be tough for cops to enforce including:
- Enforcing both the medical cannabis and recreational cannabis regimes. (No specifics were given, however, one can guess there will be challenges in differentiating between the two when it comes to things like possession, growing, and public consumption.)
- Issues with "trying to accurately measure 30 grams of dried cannabis or equivalent in public." Thirty grams of possession in public is the legal limit set out by the feds.
- "Deciphering when social sharing of cannabis does not constitute the facilitation of a drug transaction." So, how are cops going to distinguish between people sharing drugs versus selling them to each other?
- Enforcing the ban on public consumption and impairment "given the different mediums of cannabis that can be consumed (e.g. edibles)." It's pretty easy to eat a gummy bear without attracting the cops' attention.
While the Ontario government has said public consumption will be banned everywhere but at private residences—weed lounges will also be barred—the MCSCS briefing suggests that's not a good idea. "Banning cannabis consumption in public could increase the risk of users turning to other mediums (e.g. edibles) which could lead to stronger impairment/effects," it says.
Under the federal plan, Canadians outside the medical regime will be allowed to grow four plants at home. Possession of more than than four harvesting plants could result in 14 years of jail. The MCSCS report said these plants could be "an additional source for organized crime." It also said it will be difficult to enforce the home grow ops because most police services "lack capacity for the anticipated magnitude of increased enforcement" and because you can't go into people's homes without search warrants. Another issue, the report says, is people could be criminalized for small amounts of overproduction.
The report says drug screeners only test for presence of the drug, not impairment.
VICE reached out to Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney General for an interview, citing contradictions between this report and Ontario's legalization rollout plan. In response, Emilie Smith, a spokeswoman for the MAG sent a statement saying the ministry established a "dedicated secretariat" to coordinate the province's weed rollout that draws from the skills of 16 ministries, including the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.
"The Ministry of the Attorney General developed, in close collaboration with partner ministries, a safe and sensible approach that focuses on the promotion of public health and safety, including road safety, the protection of young people, prevention and harm reduction," the statement said.
The MAG declined to take specific questions on this document.
Canada is slated to legalize weed by next July.
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