Pubdate: Sat, 05 Dec 2015
Source: Daily Press, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2015 Sun Media
Author: Sarah Moore
Page: A1

'No good can come of this'

Prospects of legalized marijuana draws mixed reaction - though TPS
chief expects big trouble

TIMMINS - Almost two months after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
promised to legalize marijuana, the practical implications of that
promise are still half-baked.

While the country is anxious to see if Trudeau will make good on that
promise, here in Timmins, a strong divide exists between those in
favour of the legalization process and those who are staunchly opposed.

As for Timmins Police Chief John Gauthier, his stance on the issue is
far from hazy.

"There's no good that can come of this. None," he told The Daily
Press. "I agree with the stand that the Canadian Association of Chiefs
of Police has taken and in no way, shape, or form can I, as the Chief
of the Timmins Police Force, ever support legalization."

During the election, Trudeau pledged in his platform to "remove
marijuana consumption and incidental possession from the criminal code
to create new, stronger laws to punish more severely those who provide
it to minors, those who operate a motor vehicle while under its
influence and those who sell it outside of the new regulatory framework."

He said this would keep the drug out of the hands of young children
and the profits out of the hands of criminals.

Gauthier argued that legalizing pot will fail to live up to either of
those promises.

Even if marijuana use was prohibited to those below a certain age, in
the same way that alcohol and cigarettes are, the chief said it won't
stop kids from accessing it.

"Stores aren't supposed to be selling tobacco to them under the age of
19. There are big posters saying

'We do not sell.' Are you kidding me? If you drive by any high school,
you'll see kids outside lighting up cigarettes. Kids are getting their
hands on it in Grade 9. It's the same with alcohol," he said. "It's
going to be way too easy to get. On top of that, I've heard from local
principals that they have all had cyclical problems with drug use
during different time periods."

As for eliminating the illegal drug trade, Gauthier hardly thinks that
legalization will do much to curb that, either - especially when
considering many of the police raids and seizures involving marijuana
in Timmins have also included numerous other drugs.

"When you look at some of the seizures that we have, very rarely is it
just marijuana," said Kate Cantin, spokeswoman for the Timmins Police
Service. "We've had marijuana, methamphetamine, we had maybe four or
five different drugs."

In 2013, Timmins police seized 31,909 grams of marijuana, more than
1,000 grams of cannabis resin and seven plants. This was a record year
for the police service and one seizure accounted for 26,167 grams of
marijuana and 1,081 grams of cannabis resin - the largest marijuana
bust in TPS history.

While the numbers were significantly lower in 2014, there was 560
grams of marijuana confiscated last year.

In 2015, so far, 13,334 grams of marijuana has been seized, including
the 22.9 pounds of marijuana and a small amount of resin seized last

Gauthier's biggest concern, however, is the impact the recreational
pot smoking will have on impaired driving.

"Why would we want to introduce to our community, to our country,
another form of intoxicant that eventually will harm a lot of people?"
he questioned. "We keep arresting people for impaired driving and how
many years have we been doing the same things over and over again? Now
the potential is we're going to introduce the legalization of another
intoxicant which will, for some, be another method of having a party,
going out and getting behind the wheel and potentially killing people.
I don't get it."

Another problem for law enforcement will be road-side testing for
impairment, given there is currently no breathalyzer-equivalent for
testing THC levels.

Although some officers in Timmins have been issued special training to
check for signs of drug-impairment - a technique that is often
admissible in court - Gauthier said they haven't been able to fully
test its effectiveness yet.

Marijuana advocates in the city are "unimpressed" by the strong
opposition to legalization from local law enforcement.

Robert Neron, who has organized the marijuana-friendly Hempfest Canada
festival in the nearby community of Moonbeam for several years, called
their strict prosecution of marijuana users a "war."

He is also frustrated that the government seems to be dragging its
heels on the issue.

"Listen Mr. Justin Trudeau," he wrote in an email to The Daily Press.
"We voted for you, as you promised legalization. I for one, thought
you were ready and seriously thought you'd have had a platform or at
least a 'game plan' ready of some sorts. Any move in any direction is
better than a stand still."

As someone who has previously undergone cancer treatment, Neron has
been a long-time advocate for the benefits of marijuana.

"Weed, regulated weed has good to it," he said, noting that the
legalization process should also include the ability for users to grow
their own plants.

He equates the proposal to the difference between store-bought and
homemade food, saying, "We already know where the best pies come from.
It's from a farmer's house and not factory/store bought one."

While Health Canada does not endorse the use of marijuana, the courts
have permitted reasonable access to a legal source of marijuana when
authorized by a healthcare practitioner.

The Porcupine Health Unit has yet to come to any of their own
conclusions on the health effects of marijuana use.

"We're looking at the evidence and the information as it comes in and
at this point we really don't have anything we can comment on
directly," said health unit spokesman Gary Schelling. "We're hoping to
take a look at it over the next couple weeks and hopefully come out
with some definite answers from a public health perspective."

Whatever the outcome, Gauthier doesn't foresee there being any
immediate changes to the laws surrounding marijuana any time soon.

"A lot of work has to be done, I don't think this is a decision where
the Canadian Government is going to say, 'Jan. 1, 2016, we're going to
legalize it.'"

If the legalization mandate does pass, Gauthier said he will enforce
any new laws accordingly.

"When the day comes, if it comes, we'll all have pretty clear
direction from the federal government for how we enforce it and how
the rules will be, so we'll wait to see where we're at then and follow
the mandate of the federal government. For now, it's business as usual."

Currently, the Liberal government has taken preliminary steps to
further this agenda by mandating Federal Health Minister Jane
Philpott, along with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Justice
Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, to create a 
federal-provincial-territorial process to legalize marijuana use. They 
have been also been charged with creating a task force which will 
consult with legal authorities, public safety officials and Health 
Canada scientists on the issue, who already have a role in regulating 
products with health risks such as tobacco.
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