Sarnia’s police chief wants tighter restrictions on where cannabis can be consumed.
“I don’t want to see someone walking down Christina Street smoking marijuana, and I don’t want it in our parks,” said Chief Norm Hansen.
“I don’t see it as a positive thing for our community.”
Bill 36, which was approved by Ontario’s Conservative government hours after Ottawa made recreational marijuana legal, permits the smoking of cannabis in public areas including sidewalks and parks.
Hansen advised his officers that smoking marijuana in public is permitted, and there were no incidents reported in the first days of legalization.
“As it is, you can’t drink alcohol in a park but you can smoke cannabis there,” Hansen said. “I can’t imagine it will stay this way.”
Under the provincial legislation, individual municipalities can limit smoking pot in public places, something the chief hopes Sarnia will act on.
“There may be an opportunity for the (Sarnia Police Services) board to encourage city council to tighten control on where it can be smoked,” Hansen said. In the City of Markham, its council voted unanimously in favour of a new bylaw to restricts cannabis consumption to private residences.
Hansen said he anticipates a great deal of legal “tweaking” in the years ahead as cannabis-related cases move through the court system.
In the meantime, he said he has grave concerns about drug-impaired driving.
“I suspect young people who are smart about drinking and driving aren’t smart about smoking cannabis and driving,” he said.
“I do know there’s a fallacy, especially among younger people, that it’s okay to drive high. I want young people to know it’s not harmless just because it’s legal,” the chief said.
“Be smart. Make good choices.”
Federal regulations have determined that driving with two to five nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood carries a criminal conviction and a fine up to $1,000.
But the science isn’t clear how long it takes for THC to clear the body and the public isn’t familiar with how much marijuana will cause impairment.
Prior to legalization on Oct. 17, the federal government approved a device that allows police to do roadside saliva testing to determine probable grounds for a blood test. It’s the blood test that measures THC levels.
But Sarnia Police Services didn’t purchase any of the saliva testers.
“Very few police services bought them,” said Hansen. “They are very expensive and I’m not going to waste budget money on something that is going to be challenged in court.
“We’re waiting for a more foolproof tester and then we’ll be all over it,” he said, adding that city police don’t currently have medical professionals to draw blood.
However, the department has officers trained to assess impaired drivers in the field, charge them and take them to the station for evaluation by a trained drug recognition expert.
“We will continue to charge drug-impaired drivers just as we always have,” Hansen said. “That won’t change.
“My advice is not to drive if you’ve smoked any (pot) or consumed alcohol. It’s that simple.”
Charmaine Murray, the president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Sarnia/Lambton, is concerned the legalization of pot will lead to more deaths and injuries on local roads.
“People who aren’t used to cannabis are going to try it and they won’t realize their depth perception is changed, their attention span is shorter, and their reactions are slower,” she said.
“Having lost a child to impaired driving, I think about it all the time and this really worries me,” said Murray.
“There hasn’t been enough education leading up to this.”
Murray said it’s impossible to know how much cannabis is too much for driving and she urged all drivers to make a choice.
“Either drive completely sober or don’t drive,” she said. “Be safe.”
WHERE IS IT LEGAL TO SMOKE OR VAPE IN SARNIA:
– Private residences that are not also workplaces;
– Outdoor public places like sidewalks and parks;
– Designated guest rooms in hotels, motels and inns;
– Controlled areas in long-term care homes, certain retirement homes, residential hospices, provincially funded supportive housing, psychiatric facilities or veteran’s facilities.
YOU CANNOT SMOKE OR VAPE IN:
– A car or boat;
– Enclosed public places and work places;
– Schools and other places where children gather;
– Within 20 metres of playgrounds and sports fields;
– Within nine metres of the entrance to a hospital, long-term care or psychiatric facility entrance.