Legalization of pot next year puts police in 'grey area,' criminologist says

Legalization of pot next year puts police in 'grey area,' criminologist says

The Trudeau government's decision to legalize marijuana will put law enforcement officers in a tight spot between now and July 2018, a criminology professor says.

Michael Boudreau, who teaches at St. Thomas University, said Tuesday that the legalization of marijuana will help reduce illegal activity, especially by organized crime, and free up the court system.

But Boudreau wondered where this leaves law enforcement. 

"There are some grey areas here," he said in an interview with Information Morning Fredericton. 

"We're seeing across the country, in Montreal, Vancouver and here in Saint John, [police] continue to raid marijuana dispensaries because they continue to say the law is in place and they are enforcing it."

- Liberals to announce marijuana will be legal by July 1, 2018 

- 12 people charged after police raid 6 medical marijuana dispensaries in Saint John 

The federal government recently announced it will be legalizing marijuana on July 1, 2018.

But this year, Saint John police have twice conducted raids on medical marijuana dispensaries in the city, and owners and others were charged with possession of drugs for the purpose of trafficking.

With legislation coming into play, Boudreau said police probably could find better things to do with their time and resources than raid dispensaries or arrest people caught with small amounts of pot.

"It's almost like a cat and mouse kind of situation," he said.

Despite these challenges, Boudreau suggested it's more important that police in New Brunswick, as well as the Department of Public Safety, address how they plan to approach legalization and to educate people about the laws surrounding it. 

From illegal to legal

Boudreau said the cultural shift that will accompany the change in law has happened before. He used the prohibition against alcohol as an example.

"Prohibition was a big one," he said. Alcohol consumption "was ostracized, seen as something that leads to crimes, the breakup of families, the ruination of children's lives."

Boudreau also pointed to prohibitions related to women's rights, including access to abortion, which New Brunswick still restricts and grapples with today.

He said a big concern with the legalization of marijuana will be detecting people who are driving while under the influence of the drug.

"Maybe all of the fears around marijuana, maybe they're not founded, maybe they are founded," Boudreau said. "But the police have to play a role."