On pot, the government is right to take it slowly
Without question, the Ontario government’s plan to regulate marijuana once the drug is legalized makes eminent sense.
There’s no doubt that Canada is entering unchartered waters; caution should be the watchword.
We are, for the first time, legalizing the recreational use of a street drug whose broader long-term impact on the population remains uncertain and the last thing we need is to plunge into this with careless abandon.
No, the provincial Liberals are not taking us back to the 1950s with the measures they have announced to control the sale of cannabis. The government is simply taking it one step at a time, and it is the right strategy.
“The province is moving forward with a safe and sensible approach to legalization that will ensure we can keep our communities and roads safe, promote public health and harm reduction, and protect Ontario’s young people,” Attorney General Yasir Naqvi said. He is right. Think about what the government announced.
In line with impending federal law, marijuana will be legal in Ontario.
At 19, the same minimum age for alcohol, one can buy marijuana for recreational use.
Private stores that have sprung up across the city illegally selling the drug will be shut down and instead, 150 stand-alone stores operating under the umbrella of the LCBO will be established across the province to sell the drug.
They will operate the same way alcohol is sold in the province.
Today, if you are smoker and my colleague at work, you cannot puff away in my face. You cannot smoke in public places. You are required to go outside or to a designated area to indulge.
Marijuana smokers are simply being held to similar standard. They cannot smoke their joints in public places and workplaces but are free to do so in their homes.
Down the road, the government may look at the feasibility of licensing places where people can go and smoke a joint, but that will come with time. That is eminently fair.
In essence, the government is treating the smoking of marijuana the same way it is treating alcohol and cigarettes. What can be wrong with that?
Advocates say the government plan will make it difficult to buy marijuana, and so it should, especially at this initial stage of legalization.
We regulate the sale of alcohol and cigarettes. We don’t allow alcohol to be sold in every store on every street corner, and when you go to buy cigarettes, you are required to show identification that says you are at the right age to smoke. There is nothing unique about marijuana that requires its users to be given special treatment.
What is often lost or ignored in this debate is that we really don’t know the full health and psychological impact of marijuana use, especially on the youth. Many users and advocates believe recreational use is benign, but there is a large body of medical opinion that the drug has a deleterious impact on young people.
It is believed that marijuana use could impair brain development in young adults, and while some may pooh-pooh the suggestion, society as a whole cannot simply dismiss it.
Police and other authorities worry about its impact on drivers and there are many other concerns that the government cannot just ignore. There have to be restrictions, there have to be some controls as we navigate this brave new world of legalization.
A time may come when the door will be thrown wide open, but for now, this is something that requires monitoring and research so we learn the right lessons.
The government is right to make haste slowly.