Lack of roadside testing for marijuana worries Alberta police chiefs

by Claire Theobald

Alberta's police chiefs are feeling "overwhelmed" figuring out how to adjust policing practices ahead of marijuana legalization, said Edmonton police Chief Rod Knecht.

"The timelines are extremely tight," Knecht said outside an Edmonton Police Commission meeting at City Hall on Thursday.

In an open letter, the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police warned the scheduled legalization July 1 leaves "insufficient time for the full consideration necessary in the creation of the regulatory framework to ensure the safety of Albertans."

Chief among their concerns is a lack of approved roadside testing for drug impairment.

"We don't have a test available to measure impaired driving (and) I think that's going to cause serious consequences," said Knecht, warning any ambiguity will encourage more people to plead not guilty, putting more pressure on Alberta's overburdened courts.

The illegal marijuana trade has been big business for organized crime, with the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police estimating $6 billion in profits annually.

The police chiefs would like the government to create regulations that would prevent organized crime from infiltrating private pot retailers.

"It's not going to go away," Knecht said. "Organized crime is very adept at getting around law and capitalizing on circumstances. There are some holes in the process right now where organized crime can get in."

One of those holes is online sales, where Knecht said there is little being done to ensure the person buying the product is the same person the product is being delivered to, opening the door for underage use.

"You can order anything online right now," said Knecht.

The government of Alberta has proposed regulating public consumption of marijuana much like cigarette smoking is now, but Knecht said the chiefs are concerned with the effects of second hand smoke and encouraging youth users, and would rather see public marijuana consumption mirror liquor laws.