Don’t rush mar­i­juana law

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION - John Roe

“Go slow … take your time,” is the ex­cel­lent ad­vice Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau was given last year on his plan to le­gal­ize recre­ational mar­i­juana in Canada. The speaker was none other than Anne McLel­lan, leader of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s task force on the is­sue, and her mes­sage was do your home­work and get the job right the first time around.

The cau­tion from this for­mer Lib­eral deputy prime min­is­ter was wise. It seems even more ur­gent now af­ter nine Cana­dian pre­miers told the prime min­is­ter last week they have so many con­cerns about his prom­ise to le­gal­ize recre­ational pot start­ing July 1, 2018, that they may ask him to post­pone the change.

Trudeau’s tar­get date, they warned, “may be un­re­al­is­tic.” Trudeau im­me­di­ately quashed the pos­si­bil­ity of any de­lay in keep­ing a ma­jor elec­tion prom­ise and meet­ing his dead­line — ar­bi­trary though the lat­ter is. That was a mis­take. The pre­miers’ ques­tions are le­git­i­mate, sig­nif­i­cant and need an­swers.

While Ot­tawa has the power to le­gal­ize recre­ational pot, the provin­cial gov­ern­ments have a ma­jor role to play. And it could take more than the 11 months be­fore the cur­rent le­gal­iza­tion dead­line for them to be fully pre­pared.

The prov­inces, not Ot­tawa, will be re­spon­si­ble for the sale of recre­ational mar­i­juana. But should it be done by gov­ern­ment-run out­lets — such as the Liquor Con­trol Board of On­tario stores — or pri­vate re­tail­ers — such as the ones run­ning On­tario’s Beer Stores? It may be im­pos­si­ble to get these out­lets in place with trained staff and an es­tab­lished sup­ply change within 11 months.

Mean­while, what will the price be and who will set it? If a gram of pot costs too much at a gov­ern­ment-au­tho­rized store, black-mar­ket crim­i­nals will be ready with a cut-rate prod­uct. The same dan­ger exists re­gard­ing gov­ern­ment tax­a­tion. But can Ot­tawa and the prov­inces agree on ap­pro­pri­ate tax rates by next July?

Mean­while, the prov­inces will be re­spon­si­ble for de­cid­ing the age at which peo­ple will be al­lowed to use recre­ational pot. But what will that age be, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing that the med­i­cal com­mu­nity has warned cannabis can harm de­vel­op­ing teenage brains? And shouldn’t the age be con­sis­tent across Canada?

The prov­inces also have a ma­jor role to play in keep­ing drug-im­paired driv­ers off the road­ways. But many pre­miers rea­son­ably won­der if an ac­cu­rate sys­tem for test­ing driv­ers can be im­ple­mented in time for Trudeau’s dead­line.

It’s un­der­stand­able that af­ter be­ing ham­mered for break­ing elec­tion prom­ises on demo­cratic re­form and the size of fed­eral deficits Trudeau would be adamant about keep­ing this one. But he could de­lay the im­ple­men­ta­tion date by a year or more and still have mar­i­juana le­gal­ized by the 2019 gen­eral elec­tion.

Fi­nally, while that law is com­ing, Trudeau should con­sider de­crim­i­nal­iz­ing pot for in­di­vid­ual users. It is point­less to con­tinue ar­rest­ing peo­ple who use a sub­stance Ot­tawa is in the process of le­gal­iz­ing.

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