Provinces protest over pot scramble
New Brunswick welcomes legalization, but others complain about ‘heavy lifting’ required
OTTAWA — Provinces have been protesting the large volume of work and heavy costs they say the Trudeau government has piled on them in its rush to legalize recreational cannabis across Canada next year.
So far, however, New Brunswick has been taking the high road.
Unlike other members of the federation, New Brunswick isn’t pressing for federal compensation to cover the bills of pot legalization, nor is it in a particular scramble to draw up the plans, the province’s health minister said.
Provinces have been busy since the federal government tabled legislation last month to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana use, with a primary aim of keeping weed out of the hands of youth and criminals. Ottawa hopes to make it happen by July 2018.
“We didn’t just wait for the federal legislation and then start — we started doing our homework and our due diligence well before, anticipating what the federal legislation was going to look like,” New Brunswick Health Minister Victor Boudreau said in an interview.
New Brunswick’s enthusiasm is connected to the fact the province views pot legalization as a future driver for its struggling economy.
Some provinces, however, aren’t expecting meaningful windfalls — if any at all — once startup costs are factored in. They’ve also expressed concern about what they see as a hurried course set by Ottawa toward legalization.
Quebec Public Health Minister Lucie Charlebois warns that meeting the federal timeline will be a challenge as provinces, territories and municipalities race to develop complex pot-related rules, programs and strategies within their own jurisdictions.
Setting guidelines related to the minimum legal age, retail sales, public health, education and security are among the wide range of needs. Charlebois said 13 departments in her government have been hustling to prepare for legalization.
She also has doubts that tax revenue from cannabis will be enough to cover costs of preparing for everything that will come with regulation. Taxes on pot are expected to stay low to ensure the regulated market elbows out illegal dealers.
Quebec isn’t alone in questioning Ottawa’s approach.
Shortly after the federal legislation was tabled, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley warned the provinces would be left with a lot of “heavy lifting” and that there would be considerable costs associated with administering legalized pot.