Police won't know the difference between legal weed and 'friendly dealer' kush, lawyer warns

While retailers and cannabis consumers let loose, a Calgary lawyer isn't celebrating legalization. 

Dale Fedorchuk, a criminal defence lawyer based in Calgary, joined David Gray on the Calgary Eyeopener this week to talk about the other side of legalization: the criminal and legal repercussions.

This is an edited version of that conversation:

Jason Redmond/Reuters

Q: Why would the legalization of pot mean more business for lawyers? Isn't that a contradiction?

A: It's good for business, but defence lawyers are not celebrating this like the marijuana retailers. We've been warning for quite a while now the effects that this is going to have, particularly when it comes to things like constitutional rights, impaired driving laws and things of this nature.

Q: Despite this, you're not at all in favour of legalization even though it's good for your practice and your wallet?

A: I think that in 20 years we're going to have reports coming out saying: "Oh no. What did we do? Here are the effects that we never contemplated on society." I think the repercussions are going to be felt. It may take a couple of decades for that to happen but I believe it will.

How is a police officer who has stopped somebody checking their bag of marijuana to determine whether that person purchased it legally at a store or down the street for half the price from his friendly dealer? -Dale Fedorchuk, defence lawyer

Q: That's down the road. What's your immediate concern?

A: We've already heard stories about the supply issue with marijuana, that the legal stores may not be able to have a big enough supply. That's why I don't foresee the problem of people purchasing illicit substances going away.

Also, how is a police officer, who has stopped somebody checking their bag of marijuana, to determine whether that person purchased it legally at a store or down the street for half the price from his friendly dealer?

Q: How long do you think it will take before you're taking on cannabis-related cases?

A: I don't think that it'll take very long at all. And the whole issue related to impaired driving by marijuana is going to be a very difficult issue for the Crown and for police officers.

One of the principal issues is there's really no scientific evidence that establishes a person having five nanograms of THC in their blood is impaired. It's not like alcohol. We know that if you have .08 or .09 alcohol in your blood you're impaired and too impaired to drive a motor vehicle.

We have identified at least at least five or six issues with this whole process that are going to face core challenges — perhaps all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Q: The federal government just announced they're going to expedite the process of getting a pardon for a simple pot possession. What do you think about this move?

A: It is a very good thing, principally because I've had experience with people calling me from the airport saying: "They're not going to allow me to go on my flight to Florida because I have a conviction from four years ago."

You may even see more of that. The United States is not happy with Canada right now, because we've legalized marijuana. I would not be surprised if a directive came down from on high saying if someone even admits to having consumed marijuana, they will be denied entry into the United States.

David Bell/CBC

Q: What should people do when they travel to the United States, in your view, if they use legal pot, or are involved in the pot business?

A: I would not volunteer information if asked the question. However, I always advocate honesty even if it means denial of entry. Things can get worse for you if you happen to tell a falsehood. Sometimes these things can be found out by, you know, a simple check of a Facebook page. But really, I think that the best thing to do is to simply abstain from using it at all.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.