Legal Marijuana Makes Law Enforcement Communication Even More Important

By Andrew Richards, CEO, Spire Secure Logistics

The need for different law enforcement agencies to communicate clearly and quickly with each other is obvious to everyone. With a major change in the law, like the legalization of marijuana, the necessity of rapid and clear communication is increased.

What happens when communication doesn’t happen? Back in November 2017, the press reported on an incident in Detroit where officers of the 12th precinct were posing as drug dealers and officers of the 11th precinct tried to arrest them while other members of the latter precinct were carrying out a drug raid. One officer was hospitalized as a result of the ensuing fight, assault and battery charges were considered, and the supervisor wound up being reassigned. Police Chief James Craig called it “one of the most embarrassing things I’ve seen in this department.”

The Detroit Free Press reported, “Poor communication led officers from the 11th and 12th Precincts to be in the same area, at the same time, without proper notification ….  Craig said somebody from the 12th Precinct should have let the 11th Precinct know their officers planned to be in the area, but that didn’t happen.”

It’s funny in a Keystone Kops kind of way, except that lives were in real danger and someone might easily have gone to the morgue rather than the hospital.

The legalization of cannabis adds a large set of complications to the situation that officers will face. Before legalization, the situation was simple. Cultivation, sale, possession of pot were all illegal, and could be dealt with rather directly. Yet the incident in Detroit still happened. After legalization, some cultivation is legal, some sales are legal, most possession is legal – some but not all. The Detroit incident, under these circumstances, could become business as usual rather than an extreme case.

Taking Colorado as an example, you were allowed six plants for personal use, but only three could be in flower at a time. This changed on January 1, 2018, when 12 per residence became the rule. Homes with people under 21 living there have to have special enclosed places to grow these plants. Only licensed grow establishments can sell cannabis. Above all, counties and municipalities are allowed to have stricter rules.

It is easy to see how this creates a labyrinth for law enforcement to navigate. If a county decides pot remains banned, what does law enforcement do about a truck passing through the county as part of an otherwise legal operation? The county sheriff probably needs to handle this differently than he would discovering a greenhouse with 100 flowering plants in his jurisdiction. A central clearing house for information is necessary.

In 2018, Canada is going to legalize cannabis if the Trudeau government has its way. According to Jeff Meyers, our COO, Canadian licensed producers will need to cultivate an aggregate of 610,000kg of cannabis to meet conservative projects of domestic and export demand in 2019. Last year total estimated production of 31,000kg represents just 5% of this total. Organized crime is poised to fill the gaps.” Meyers continues, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, provincial and local law enforcement, and private sector security firms for that matter, are going to need to share information as never before. You don’t want to violate the rights of people to partake of a legal product, but at the same time, you don’t want ‘freelance producers and suppliers’ creating problems because they won’t follow the laws. Law enforcement is going to need to coordinate and communicate as never before.”

The Canadians do have an advantage, as do the states and territories in the US that are just getting around to legalize cannabis now the pioneers like Colorado and Washington State have done much of the trial-and-error learning already. The Brookings Institute reported, Colorado’s strong rollout is attributable to a number of elements. Those include: leadership by state officials; a cooperative, inclusive approach centering on task forces and working groups; substantial efforts to improve administrative communication [italics added]; adaptive regulation that embraces regulatory lookback and process-oriented learning; reorganizing, rebuilding, and re-staffing critical state regulatory institutions; and changes in culture in state and local government, among interest groups, and among the public.”

Those who are now legalizing cannabis can take what the pioneers have learned and adapt it to their own situations. What they cannot do is ignore the need to communicate.


Andy Richards is CEO of Spire Secure Logistics, a Canada-based company focused on security in all its aspects in the legal marijuana space, and a seasoned leader in both police services and international private security for high-risk regulated industries. After a diverse thirty-four-year career in three separate police agencies, Andy retired in June 2015 as a Deputy Chief Constable in the Greater Vancouver area.