Everybody just chill out. That was the general tone of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police's (CACP) media conference on cannabis legalization this morning (October 15).
At Vancouver Police Department (VPD) headquarters, CACP president and VPD chief constable Adam Palmer reassured the public that when recreational cannabis is officially allowed on October 17, he doesn't actually anticipate that anything especially new is actually going to happen, at least as far as law enforcement and public safety are concerned.
"It's important to remember that while the legal recreational use of cannabis will be new for Canadians come Wednesday, enforcing laws around impaired driving and the illegal production, distribution, and consumption of cannabis will not be new to police," Palmer told reporters. "We've been dealing with drug-impaired driving for many, many decades in Canada."
Palmer said that while cannabis is presently receiving a lot of attention in Canada, its legalization does not necessarily mean that the drug will become any more of a priority for police.
"In the scheme of things we're dealing with, marijuana is important, but it is not the most important thing going on in the country right now," he explained. "Fentanyl, for example, kills 11 Canadians a day. Marijuana Certainly doesn't. So there are more pressing issues going on in public safety."
Palmer predicted there will be a few kinks to iron out as new regulatory systems are implemented across Canada.
"There is no doubt that Canadians are headed into unchartered waters with the legalization of cannabis in two days," he said. But Palmer added that's no reason for everybody to freak out.
"Please keep in mind that the enforcement of the new cannabis laws is not the only public-safety issue for police agencies in Canada," he stressed for a second time during the 30-minute media conference. "Different areas in the country will have different priorities. And as police leaders, we continuously set priorities with public safety in mind. This will not change with the legalization of cannabis. And there are other pressing public-safety issues in our country that we are facing."
Palmer noted that many instances where someone violates a regulation related to recreational cannabis will not involve a police officer.
"In many provinces, you will be able to smoke cannabis in similar situations where you can now smoke tobacco," he explained. "So infractions like that probably aren't going to fall to the police, just like they don't now. If somebody is smoking illegally, like in a park or school ground, that would be,, usually, bylaw officers. We'd probably get complaints on it, but that would not be something the police would normally deal with, as with tobacco."
Palmer added that where police enforcement is required, that will likely not taken the form of any sort of imminent crackdown where large police operations are organized overnight.
"Not all issues or concerns related to the legalization of cannabis can or will be resolved in one day or on day one," Palmer said.
"I find it highly unlikely that anybody is going to be doing any kind of a big crackdown on day one," he said later in response to a reporter's question. "One thing I've said before is that October 17 is going to come, and then October 18 and then October 19, and you're probably not going to see a big change with regard to what the police are doing or what anybody else is doing. This is going to be an approach that is going to be measured and take time."