N.L. gov­ern­ment wrestling with pot le­gal­iza­tion is­sues

The Aurora (Labrador City) - - FRONT PAGE - BY JAMES MCLEOD

A ma­jor­ity of in­ter­est groups want the gov­ern­ment to sell cannabis through a Crown cor­po­ra­tion like the NL Liquor Corp., whereas most mem­bers of the pub­lic want to see stand­alone stores sell­ing mar­i­juana once it’s le­gal­ized.

The is­sue of how le­gal­ized mar­i­juana will be sold is shap­ing up to be one of the most thorny is­sues for the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment to ad­dress, based on a re­port on pub­lic sen­ti­ment around le­gal­iza­tion.

The gov­ern­ment has re­leased a doc­u­ment sum­ming up what peo­ple said in con­sul­ta­tions mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion, as the prov­ince gets ready for full le­gal­iza­tion next year.

On some top­ics, plenty of con­sen­sus.

Most peo­ple want to see the le­gal age for buy­ing mar­i­juana set at 19, and re­stric­tions when it comes to where peo­ple can smoke weed, sim­i­lar to to­bacco. Most peo­ple also think there should be ad­di­tional con­se­quences for drug-im­paired driv­ing.

But on the thorny ques­tion of where cannabis should be sold, it’s more com­pli­cated. Nearly half of re­spon­dents to the gov­ern­ment’s on­line ques­tion­naire said they think it’s fine to sell mar­i­juana in places that also there’s sell al­co­hol, but nearly as many peo­ple — 43 per cent — were op­posed to that idea.

And while pub­lic in­ter­est groups like med­i­cal as­so­ci­a­tions, first re­spon­ders, and com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions and such say that the NLC should sell cannabis, reg­u­lar mem­bers of the pub­lic had a far lower ap­petite for that. The gov­ern­ment needs to straighten all this out be­fore July of 2018, when the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has said it will fully le­gal­ize mar­i­juana for recre­ational pur­poses.

Jus­tice Min­is­ter An­drew Par­sons said that on all these is­sues, the gov­ern­ment will need to fig­ure out what will work best for the prov­ince, and pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion is only one piece of the equa­tion. “This is just a piece of what we’re go­ing to do as we move for­ward in de­vel­op­ing pol­icy, leg­is­la­tion and reg­u­la­tion,” he said.

“I don’t think for a sec­ond that you can look at just what the pub­lic says and mak­ing all your de­ci­sions based solely on pub­lic opin­ion.”

Par­sons said that peo­ple should read the doc­u­ment and think about these is­sues, be­cause peo­ple need to be aware of the is­sues around mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion.

“Across just about ev­ery part of this sur­vey, peo­ple iden­ti­fied ed­u­ca­tion as cru­cial,” he said.

Par­sons also stressed that mar­i­juana won’t be the an­swer to the prov­ince’s bud­get woes.

“This is not a cash cow in the early go­ing, and I don’t know if it’s go­ing to be a cash cow at any time,” he said.

“This is not some­thing that we can tax heav­ily, or it’ll go right back to the crim­i­nal mar­ket, which is what we’re try­ing to avoid.”

FILE PHOTO

Cus­tomers buy prod­ucts at a dis­pen­sary in San Fran­cisco. With le­gal­iza­tion on the hori­zon, the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment is look­ing at how it will reg­u­late the sale of cannabis prod­ucts.

FILE PHOTO

NL Jus­tice Min­is­ter An­drew Par­sons

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