Atlantic Police Academy adapts to legalized cannabis in P.E.I.

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The legalization of cannabis has changed laws, but impaired is still impaired, say Atlantic Police Academy instructors. “It always used to be that it was a victimless crime, but that’s not the case. You can put yourself and others in danger,” said the Insp. Gord Campbell, referring to getting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle while impaired.

Campbell is one of the instructors at the Slemon Park-based training facility. He teaches use of force, firearms and Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) curriculum.

Cannabis became legal in Canada on Oct. 17, 2018.

Now, not only is there a federal act for the control of marijuana, police academy students learn about the individual provincial acts which regulate marijuana.

“I teach regulations of the three Maritime Provinces as well as Alberta, as a lot of the cadets go there, as well as other provinces as required,” said Insp. Curtis Fudge, learning manager of law at the academy.

“On the law side of things, there is more legislation taught in the same amount of time. Not only do we need to be concerned about the controlled substances act, where marijuana fell before, but marijuana alone falls under the federal Cannabis Act and the various provincial cannabis control acts which regulate marijuana in each province,” he explained.

Before legalization

“There were different levels. Simple possession – anything under 30 grams was considered a summary offence, so the U.S. version of a misdemeanor, trafficking and possession for purpose of trafficking, as well as marijuana production was unlawful unless you had a Health Canada certificate to lawfully grow the substance.”

In layman’s terms, marijuana was illegal unless you had a medical exemption to possess or grow the plant.

Now Canadians can carry up to 30 grams on their person, regardless of how it’s packaged.

“You could almost say it’s the same as alcohol. It was illegal, now it’s legal and now marijuana is morphing in. It’s not really a big shift, but it’s another avenue to investigate,” said Campbell.

Officers adapting

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New to the academy’s programming is the Standard Field Sobriety Test (SFST).

“This is the first year we’re offering that training. Before it was the responsibility of the agency to provide it.”

After conducting SFST, officers are able to determine impairment and that drugs may be a factor, the investigation is moved to the next phase where a Drug Recognition Expert or Evaluator (DRE) – an officer trained to identify signs of impairment.

This means students will be better prepared for impaired driving investigations, said Campbell.

But the changes to training and technology isn’t going to stop.

“Right now, there are roadside testing devices that can test for alcohol impairment. There is technology out there that is in the testing phase for marijuana consumption,” said Campbell.

“Oral fluid drug screeners will be used to determine if a drug is present," said Fudge. "So front-line officers will test for the presence of THC and then if it’s found the investigation will move forward to a DRE.”

Currently there are three reading levels that result in a charge for driving while impaired by drugs.

“Legislature, penalties and charge structures have changed, and there’s more coming. We’re not done yet,” Fudge said.

With edibles coming into the mix in the fall, Fudge and Campbell say that will add more penalties and laws into the curriculum.

Impaired is impaired

With the legalization of marijuana, Campbell said people may not know their limits like they do with alcohol.

“It’s hard for people to operate or do anything when their attention is divided, so multitasking is hard. There’s a delayed reaction, we’ll have to ask multiple times for something, focus skills aren’t there.

“Obviously people are going to be consuming it more now, and not necessarily understanding how it impairs them.”

Campbell and Fudge encourage people to treat consuming marijuana like consuming alcohol.

“In the law there is a certain reading of impairment. And everyone has been educated on that, in some way," Campbell said. "Someone may have gone out and had a few drinks and such and know where they’re at roughly and wouldn’t ever think about getting behind the wheel. Now with marijuana there are people who have used it for a number of years and probably know more about how they’re responding. But we also have the worry of people who have never tried it, and now they’re starting, and they don’t know where they’re at or if they’re impaired. They feel ok, but their ability to multitask has been affected because of it. It’s important people take responsibility. Don’t get behind the wheel."

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