Marijuana legalization could leave provinces responsible for pot rules
Federal government ministers are keeping mum on the details of the Liberals’ marijuana legalization plan, as provinces consider the legislative and regulatory burden that will fall to them when pot is legalized.
As CBC News first reported Sunday night, the Liberal government will announce legislation next month that will legalize marijuana in Canada by July 1, 2018.
The legislation will be announced during the week of April 10 and will broadly follow the recommendation of a federally appointed task force that was chaired by former justice minister Anne McLellan.
- Highlights from the federal marijuana task force report
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Bill Blair, the former Toronto police chief who has been handling the marijuana file for the government, briefed the Liberal caucus on the rollout plan and the legislation during caucus meetings this weekend, according to a senior government official who spoke to CBC News on condition of anonymity.
Health Minister Jane Philpott said the goals of legalization are keeping children safe and keeping the profits of marijuana sales out of the hands of criminals.
Legalization would not amount to an endorsement of marijuana as “advisable or recommended,” she said to reporters at an event at Fanshawe College in London, Ont.
She said the government is looking to policies for substances like alcohol or tobacco, which have restrictions limiting sales to “informed, consenting adults.”
“Our responsibility as government is to make sure that we have appropriate regulatory mechanisms in place, that we have public health measures in place,” she said.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau told reporters in Toronto that the government has not come to a decision on the taxation of marijuana sales.
“We haven’t made enough progress on that part of the file. It’s really not the key focus,” Morneau said. Public safety and reducing crime are the priorities, he said.
Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose said the Liberals playing politics with the announcement.
“Their timeline shouldn’t be to make pot smokers happy, their timeline should be to make sure that the legislation has everything to keep kids safe from the harms of marijuana in terms of public health, Ambrose said to reporters after speaking at the Toronto Board of Trade.
“Are the police going to have all the resources they need? Are they going to be equipped to test people who are driving under the influence of drugs?”
Provinces facing regulatory challenge
The senior government official said the bill would propose putting the federal government in charge of ensuring the country’s marijuana supply is safe and secure, and Ottawa will license producers.
But the provinces will have the right to decide how marijuana is distributed and sold. Provincial governments will also have the right to set prices.
Meanwhile, provincial legislators say they haven’t seen the bill, though they are anticipating issues that affect their jurisdiction.
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard told reporters Monday he agrees with the principle of legalization, but he’s concerned it may create new burdens for the provinces.
“We should also be careful not to add too [many] responsibilities on the shoulders of the provinces — for example, regulation, implementation, how we will test people for this. We want to make sure that everybody will play [their] part in the implementation of the bill,” Couillard said.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said her government will be making decisions about the “complex issues” raised by the change in federal law, once it has a copy of the text.
“We’ll be working very furiously on it, there’s no question. We’re concerned about ensuring safety and health of young Albertans, and we’re also concerned about ensuring that we don’t somehow kick-start another black market,” Notley said.
Mike Morris, British Columbia’s minister of public safety and solicitor general, issued a statement Monday saying the provincial government is working on a response to legalization across departments with a priority on the “health and safety of all British Columbians, particularly young people.”
Morris said he would not be in a position to talk about details of a policy for B.C. until the federal bill is released.
The Nova Scotia Justice Department released a statement that said the province has not come to a decision on how marijuana will be distributed, but “will be guided by protecting public health and safety and focusing on a legal market.”
The province’s Justice, Health and Finance departments are part of a national working group on legalization, according to the statement.
Ontario eyes government role in distribution
Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa said the province is still considering its options on how marijuana sales will be handled.
“The recommendation is to have government oversight in regards to how it’s distributed. The Attorney General’s Office already does a lot of that be it in alcohol, be it in tobacco, be it in spirits, wine, beer,” Sousa told reporters at Queen’s Park. “Those models exist and we’re looking at putting something in place that would be most appropriate.”
Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi said there have been “no decisions” on a distribution policy ahead of the federal bill being tabled.
Sousa said he had not “baked” any expectations about revenues from a pot tax into Ontario’s budget since the majority of funds raised from cannabis sales would go into public health, addiction control and enforcement measures.
Manitoba law could restrict consumption
Manitoba’s justice minister said the provincial government has already introduced legislation to address drug-impaired driving in anticipation of changes from Ottawa.
“An area of concern that we have taken a proactive approach on is public safety,” Justice Minister Heather Stefanson said in a written statement. “Our government recently introduced the Cannabis Harm Prevention Act, which proposes an interim solution that addresses the threat of driver impairment.”
Opponents of the Manitoba bill, which would restrict cannabis consumption in vehicles and enclosed public places, say it is overly broad and doesn’t distinguish between recreational and medical marijuana users.
Philpott said the federal legislation would provide more details on the role of the provinces when it’s tabled this spring.
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