Phil Nelson is opposed to the legalization of marijuana for recreational use.
The retiring Sarnia Police Chief sees it as a “massive problem” legislatively and fears health problems like psychosis will be diagnosed among users within the next decade.
“I never thought I’d see my officers carrying kits of medication to save opioid users and now we are heading toward legalization of marijuana. We haven’t any legislation, training and equipment and we have to be ready in less than six months”.
Nelson, who is 65 and scheduled to retire June 1 is deeply concerned about a government that made legalization of a banned drug an election issue without considering the consequences and without any legislation.
“As police officers, we should be training for this and so far, we’ve got nothing. We don’t have the legislation, the training and the equipment” says Nelson “and we don’t even know who is going to pay for it”.
Nelson says “if we stop someone for marijuana we bring that person into the station and right now there is one drug evaluator”. Two more will be trained.
The Police Chief says field sobriety tests will be carried out but “how do we determine if someone is impaired? Most people are impaired by alcohol, we have roadside testers and everyone knows the rules”.
Nelson says marijuana is a different story. “An individual can have four plants up to a metre high in a place of residence but how do we know if someone is trafficking? How do we control this?
People can smoke only at home, if caught with 30 to 50 grams of marijuana they can pay a fine without a criminal record. So far says Nelson there is “nothing concrete … just a lot of questions”.
He says the frustrating aspect is that in 2015 Canada had the highest cannabis use in the world. “Without taking into account opioids including Fentanyl there was already a problem and does the Federal Government see legalizing marijuana as a step toward a solution?”.
Nelson also ponders the impact at the border. “If an officer on the American side asks if you have smoked marijuana and the answer is yes expect to be banned from entering. Americans who smoke in Colorado are now on the banned list” he says.
Nelson says his officers have become social workers, counsellors and paramedics. “The drug problem has become so serious that this is what it has come to”.
When he retires Nelson will have been with the Sarnia Police Service for 43 years and eight months. “It has been challenging. I’ve had good days and bad and the responsibility is so intense that sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night wondering if my officers are safe”.
His department has a $22.5 million budget but one of the biggest challenges is overtime. There are 111 officers and last year 12 were off for a variety of issues including major sickness. The overtime bill amounted to $800,000.00.
“This isn’t an easy job” he told First Monday. “It has been challenging and I’m ready to go”.
Nelson is paid $179,000.00 and over the years has bypassed increases.
“I never got into this job to make big bucks. As far as I’m concerned the pay is in the right range”.