Enforcing new marijuana laws will be costly, warns justice minister

New marijuana legislation introduced in Ottawa last week could end up costing provinces some serious cash, says Manitoba's justice minister.

Heather Stefanson told CBC's The House provinces and territories have yet to be told whether the federal government will help pay for officer training or new technology to enforce its bolder, more punitive impaired driving legislation.

While Manitoba's Progressive Conservatives are "pleased" the federal Liberals are introducing tougher penalties for intoxicated driving alongside legislation to legalize recreational marijuana, Stefanson said it's unclear who will pay for training or new technologies to test for THC.

"We introduced the Cannabis Harm Prevention Act which was the first to be introduced across the country and we wanted to take a proactive approach when it comes to impaired driving," she said. "We're happy and pleased that the federal government has listened to us on that front."

The Liberals' proposed new legislation would include a fine of up to $1,000 if they are found to have two to five nanograms of THC in their blood and up to 10 years in jail for more serious impaired driving offences.

While Stefanson supports the tougher penalties, she said provinces and territories are unaware how police officers will test for THC.

Ottawa has yet to endorse a specific kit or testing method police could use to test for marijuana intoxication that's as easy and simple as the breathalyzer test for alcohol.

Other jurisdictions use saliva to test for THC but measuring intoxication in nanograms has come under scrutiny because different people metabolize the drug differently. Also the psychoactive is known to stay present in people's blood long affect the effects have worn off.

"With the road-side testing devices, they're not yet ready to go," said Stefanson. "So our concern is that the day July 1, 2018, cannabis becomes legalized and we don't have those testing devices in place."

The minister did not provide a specific dollar amount but added training more officers to recognize tell-tale physiological signs a driver is high will be "very expensive."

Only about 50 officers with Manitoba RCMP and Winnipeg police are trained as drug recognition experts plus several more with rural forces across the province.

Stefanson said Manitoba has raised the issue of training costs with her federal counterpart and the issue was discussed during a conference call Thursday between territorial, provincial and federal leaders.

"We need to make sure that the funding is in place," said Stefanson. "There is an expectation for them to provide funding."

CBC has reached out to the federal justice department for comment and will update if we hear back.