Legal Pot: Five Years Later

By Roger Bill
October 20, 2023 Edition

The Media Advisory came from the Department of Justice and Public Safety. It said, “New RNC Unit Tackles Weapons and Drug Enforcement on the Northeast Avalon.”  Seemed like a big deal. The Minister would be joining the Chief of Police to brief the media. 

The message? The drug marketplace has changed. Firearms are increasingly a part of that marketplace.    RNC Chief Pat Roche would tell reporters it is, “very different than what it was a long time ago when I first started.”

The RNC’s response to this “very different” drug marketplace? According to the Media Advisory, the RNC has created a new weapons and drug enforcement unit that takes a “proactive approach to curbing violence before it occurs.”

Following the media briefing an email message to the Minister’s media team asked, “What policing methods are going to be employed in taking a “proactive approach” that weren’t already being used?

The RNC media office replied via email saying: “ . . .we will be using criminal intelligence, combined with other police techniques, to build grounds for arrests focusing on individuals and groups that show tendencies for violence in order to curb the violence before serious offences can occur.”

Uh, okay.

The RNC media office also said, “We did pilot the Unit in late July, and given the success since then it was decided, and we believe, proven, that this Unit is necessary and is increasing safety in the province.”

Research Methods 101

Following the exchange of emails the RNC media relations officer, Cpl. James Cadigan, suggested a phone conversation might be helpful. He explained that over a nine-week period this summer, personnel in the drug enforcement and weapons units of the RNC worked more closely together. The result was 20 plus arrests over a nine-week period. 

Those who took the undergraduate class in statistics and research methods may recall the voice of the old professor asking, “How does 20 plus arrests compare to the number of arrests in the previous nine weeks? How does it compare to the same nine weeks in 2022? Are the weapons offenses recorded during the pilot project the same as the weapons offenses recorded previously? Plus, is nine-weeks a sufficient period of time on which to draw conclusions? The old professor might not be persuaded that anything has been “proven” just yet.

Eventually, Cpl. James Cadigan explained the RNC’s plan in a way students in business school could understand. He said the merging of the RNC’s weapons enforcement and drug trafficking units is, “a management call.” 

Okay. Seems like a sensible response to changing circumstances, but hardly the kind of event that warrants the staging of a media event with the presence of the Minister of Justice and Public Safety.

Happy Anniversary 

Perhaps the Minister of Justice and Public Safety and the RNC could have staged a media event this past week to mark the 5th anniversary of the legalization of cannabis in Canada. Chief Roche could have remarked on the savings it has represented in terms of RNC manpower no longer devoted to trying to remove that drug from our community. Perhaps the Minister could have remarked on the pressure it has taken off the Crown Prosecutor’s office and our courts and corrections services. 

Perhaps they could have been joined by the finance minister who could comment on the revenue from the cannabis marketplace that now flows to the public treasury. For example, the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation reported cannabis sales increased from $52 million in its 2020/21 fiscal year to $70 million in its 2022/23 fiscal year and it is on track to grow further this year. The NLC 2023/24 Q1 cannabis sales were $19.3 million, up more than 25 per cent from a year earlier.

Maybe they could have been joined by the Minister of Industry who could describe the economic development impacts, like the jobs created by the conversion of a shuttered former fish plant in Burin into the Oceanic Releaf cannabis production facility.

Based on five years of experience with legal cannabis maybe the solution to the RNC’s problem isn’t a “management call,” but a policy/political call.

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