N.L. government wrestling with pot legalization issues
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.
On Aug. 24 government released a document summing up what people said in consultations about marijuana legalization, as the province gets ready for full legalization next year.
On some topics, there’s 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 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 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 2018, when the federal government has said it will fully legalize marijuana for recreational purposes.
Justice Minister Andrew Parsons said 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.”