National Column: Premiers push for pot policy

Provincial leaders call on Ottawa to deliver plan soon so they can build framework

by Robert Benzie

Canada’s premiers are signalling they need swift action from Ottawa on recreational marijuana
legalization to keep cannabis away from kids, motorists and criminals.

With a federal panel set to deliver a report this November that will be the blueprint for legislation next spring, the provincial leaders say time is of the essence.

“There’s real concerns, there’s concerns on so many levels,” Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said Thursday at the annual Council of the Federation meeting.

“I would hope that we can develop a national approach, a co-operative approach, rather than each of us going in our own separate ways.

“There are issues in terms of public health, there are issues in terms of public safety, there are issues in terms of determination of distribution mechanisms and things like that. All of these issues have to be discussed and have been made an important priority by the federal government’s commitment to move.”

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark said Canada is in a troubling limbo period as the provinces and territories await Ottawa’s next moves.

“Young people should not have access to marijuana before they’re of age. People should know – if they’re consumers of it – that the product that they’re getting is what they expect and the criminal element must be kept out,” Clark said.

“Those are the three things I’m most concerned about. We need to see the federal legislation. Then once we get through that we will build a system … that complies completely, but it will be focused on safety.”

Clark noted that in B.C. – as in Toronto – unlicensed storefront pot shops, which claim to sell medical marijuana to “patients,” are a cause for concern.

“These illegal dispensaries have become a real problem in Canada. Nobody wants one in their
neighbourhood, nobody wants one next to their child’s school, but they’re popping up everywhere,” she said.

“That’s why I’m glad the federal government wants to move quickly on it, because the criminal element is filling that grey area. We’ve got to move before they get bigger.”

While marijuana was not part of the formal agenda here at the annual conference of provincial and territorial leaders, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said she and her colleagues wanted to broach the subject.

Wynne, who has 12 provincial departments working on Ontario’s cannabis strategy, said it’s a key public policy change that political leaders must address.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said his province “has a concern around enforcement.

“We have a committee of ministers who are looking at those issues, looking at the experience in Colorado and I think it’s very important that we’re ready,” Wall said.

“In our province, unfortunately, we have a high incidence of driving while impaired and so we’ve got to be very careful … as we move forward,” he said. “We’ll be sharing our information with other provinces.”

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said that governments across Canada need to be on the same page as legalized marijuana is rolled out.

“What’s the impairment test? Those are important things in terms of road safety,” McNeil said.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley conceded it’s “obviously a very complicated matter.

“Both my health minister and my minister of justice are in the process of looking at the various options and coming up with a framework for decision-making,” Notley said, adding, like other premiers, she will be co-operating with the federal task force led by former deputy prime minister Anne McLellan.

“There’s a lot of issues outstanding. We want to do it carefully and thoughtfully,” she said.

Prince Edward Island Premier Wade MacLauchlan said his province is still determining its marijuana policy.

“I will be directly involved because I’m also minister of justice. We’re following things very closely as they unfold. We’ll be looking for the most effective way to deal with it,” MacLauchlan said.

Copyright 2016 – Torstar Syndication Services

Print Friendly, PDF & Email