B.C. police target drivers in early days of cannabis legalization

Following the legalization of recreational pot, B.C. police have been more concerned with traffic than trafficking.

The new B.C. Cannabis Control and Licensing Act bans smoking or vaping in places where tobacco is prohibited, in places frequently used by children such as parks and on school properties and in vehicles. The government has set a limit for possession in a public place at 30 grams.

Vancouver police have issued 18 traffic tickets for cannabis offences since Oct. 17, including six that involved impairment and which led to four 24-hour driving suspensions, spokeswoman Simi Heer said in an email.

During that time, they issued four non-traffic pot tickets, including two for smoking or vaping in an outdoor public place, one for possession of more than 30 grams in public and one for public intoxication. In one case, charges were recommended under the federal Cannabis Act as well as the Criminal Code.

“Our public safety and enforcement priorities have not changed since the legalization of cannabis,” Heer said. “On the investigative side, we are continuing to focus our efforts on the fentanyl crisis and targeting high level manufacturers and distributors.”

Neil Boyd, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University, said he expected pot-related traffic offences, not possession, to remain a priority for police.

“I don’t think police want to make determinations about the distinction between licit and illicit cannabis,” Boyd said, referring to the requirement that recreational pot only be bought through the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch.

“What I do expect to see are administrative highway-traffic penalties for people who are consuming in their cars. We’ve already seen that and I have no problem with that, I think it makes good sense. If you’re smoking and driving, you may not be charged criminally but you’re going to be charged a hefty fine.”

Police outside of Vancouver have dealt out at least a handful of penalties since Oct. 17.

On Tuesday, a Calgary man was stopped by West Vancouver police at a roadblock and given a $230 ticket for having an unlit pipe containing bud inside his Jeep.

Last month, Oak Bay police gave a teen a ticket after he was caught rolling a joint in a parked vehicle, just over a week after Saanich police gave a ticket to a passenger smoking a joint inside a vehicle.

The Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General said in an email that it can’t yet provide numbers for pot offences since legalization.

“Prohibition data typically requires a few months to settle before an accurate reflection on prohibition volumes can be reported,” the ministry said. “The same applies for any other cannabis-related ticket offences.”

B.C. RCMP data on pot seizures and arrests are also not yet available, according to a spokeswoman.

“The statistics will need to be first validated at which point the information will be provided to the B.C. provincial government which is responsible for collecting and collating the statistics,” Sgt. Janelle Shoihet said in an email.

Overall, cannabis offences reported last year by B.C. police dropped about 17 per cent compared to 2016, according to a September report by the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General.

For the 10,114 cannabis offences reported in 2017, 2,139 people were charged (21 per cent), compared to charge rates of 45 per cent for cocaine and 38 per cent each for heroin and methamphetamine.

Nationally, police-reported rates of pot offences declined for the sixth consecutive year in 2017, down 15 per cent across all provinces and territories, according to Statistics Canada.

Vancouver’s 311 phone line received four complaints related to public cannabis smoking in the two weeks leading up to legalization and 11 complaints in the two weeks afterward, according to city staff. No tickets were issued.

neagland@postmedia.com

twitter.com/nickeagland

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