More drug-impaired drivers arrested in Edmonton since cannabis legalized

In the first six months of cannabis legalization, Edmonton police arrested 53 drug-impaired drivers compared to three in the same period the previous year.

Nineteen were suspected of being impaired by cannabis.

The numbers are part of an Edmonton Police Commission document set to go before the Community and Public Services Committee next week outlining the impact and costs of cannabis legalization.

The report predicts the number of drug-impaired driving arrests in Edmonton will climb, though it notes a complete picture of the impact on policing is not yet possible as Alberta Gaming Liquor and Cannabis Commission has only supplied 20 per cent of demand to retailers.

“As the supply increases, these numbers will rise,” it reads.

Police Chief Dale McFee told reporters Thursday the jump was likely a result of higher cannabis use since legalization as well as police preparation.

“We’re certainly tracking it better,” he said.

McFee dismissed focusing solely on any singular drug such as cannabis or meth, instead espousing a “polydrug” approach to enforcement.

“The reality is individuals in crisis, most of them are using all those drugs,” he said. “We need a polydrug approach here and until we get there I think we’re always going to be chasing a drug and not chasing solutions.”

McFee also said police service will hold off on requesting additional funding from the city in relation to cannabis-related enforcement.

In May 2018, council approved $1.4 million in budgetary funding for EPS to prepare for legalization. As part of the 2019-2022 budget cycle, police requested further funding for a service package that would include new positions, training and equipment.

The request was denied; the city instead asking police give quarterly updates on community impact and costs related to legalization.

Chief Dale McFee said the Edmonton Police Service is holding off on requesting additional funding from the city in relation to cannabis-related enforcement. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

The report also included information about the time and cost to deal with a cannabis-impaired driver.

Processing a cannabis-impaired driver takes a minimum of six hours as compared to one impaired by alcohol, according to the report.

“This is due to the completion of a specialized field sobriety test followed by testing by a drug recognition expert and a blood sample,” it said.

The average cost for police time is listed as $89.48 per hour, making the average cost of dealing with a cannabis-impaired driver $536.88.

“The times and costs do not include report writing, court attendance, or for “incidents where there are multiple members involved (a majority of the time).”

Training officers on the new legislation is ongoing with 759 frontline officers already trained, according to the report.

EPS plans to continue warning the public against drug-impaired driving, which it began in the spring of 2018. It will also continue its check stop enforcement campaigns — 12 of which have already been conducted this year.

Other than impaired driving, legalization’s overall community impact is “lower than expected,” but the report said there is an increasing concern with methamphetamine use and drug-impaired driving by meth users.

“Further, we are now seeing investigations where both methamphetamine and cannabis were the suspected drugs of impairment,” it said.

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

According to a Statistics Canada survey, 18 per cent of Canadians aged 15 and older — 5.3 million people — reported using cannabis in the first quarter of 2019 compared to 14 per cent in the same period of 2018.

Edible cannabis products will be introduced to the Canadian market on Oct. 17.

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