> Con­ser­va­tives ques­tion cost of cannabis-track­ing sys­tem,

Times Colonist - - The Capital and Vancouver island - KRISTY KIRKUP

OT­TAWA — The fed­eral gov­ern­ment is un­der fire from the op­po­si­tion Con­ser­va­tives for fail­ing to dis­close the cost of a planned cannabis track­ing sys­tem — just one of a host of pro­posed changes to be ush­ered in along with the le­gal­iza­tion of mar­i­juana.

Health Canada said the sys­tem would be de­signed to collect in­for­ma­tion about pot prod­ucts from li­censed pro­duc­ers, dis­trib­u­tors and re­tail­ers, adding it would not track in­di­vid­ual cannabis users.

The depart­ment also said it would al­low busi­nesses and reg­u­la­tors to trace all prod­ucts and ad­dress re­calls.

“They want to put a pot reg­istry in but they are not telling us about how much it is go­ing to cost,” said Con­ser­va­tive health critic Colin Car­rie. “It is just ba­si­cally more shady be­hav­iour when it comes to this file.”

The track­ing would help to en­sure cannabis is not be­ing di­verted to il­le­gal mar­kets, Health Canada said in a state­ment, given the gov­ern­ment’s stated and oft-re­peated goal of lim­it­ing or­ga­nized crime’s foot­print in the pot trade.

“Manda­tory prod­uct trackand-trace sys­tems are com­mon fea­tures in other ju­ris­dic­tions that have le­gal­ized cannabis for non-med­i­cal pur­poses,” the depart­ment said.

The spe­cific re­quire­ments of the sys­tem still need to be de­vel­oped, Health Canada added, not­ing sim­i­lar sys­tems are used in the U.S. to gather in­for­ma­tion about cannabis prod­ucts.

The depart­ment did not say how much the pro­posed track­ing sys­tem would cost — only that it in­tends to off­set such costs through li­cens­ing and other fees.

The gov­ern­ment’s mar­i­juana leg­is­la­tion tabled last week also failed to of­fer specifics on tax mea­sures for the le­gal­ized regime.

Alis­tair MacGre­gor, the NDP’s jus­tice critic, said he is sur­prised the gov­ern­ment can’t of­fer more in­for­ma­tion.

“On the day this bill was an­nounced, they did bring out the min­is­ter of na­tional rev­enue,” MacGre­gor said. “One of the big­gest ques­tions we have is the cost of im­ple­ment­ing not just this (cannabis) reg­istry but all of the en­force­ment mea­sures; How much of this is go­ing to be down­loaded on to the prov­inces?”

On Thurs­day, thou­sands across the coun­try marked the an­nual pot cel­e­bra­tion known as 4-20, though some mar­i­juana ac­tivists ex­pressed con­cern about the gov­ern­ment’s le­gal­iza­tion ef­forts.

Alex New­combe, a 31-year-old who says he uses mar­i­juana to help his anx­i­ety, said he is dis­ap­pointed by the Lib­eral leg­is­la­tion in­tro­duced last week.

“It is not any­thing other than pro­hi­bi­tion 2.0,” New­combe said, who is es­pe­cially up­set that Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau and his Lib­er­als have not taken steps to de­crim­i­nal­ize the drug in the in­terim.

“He’s the one stop­ping it at the mo­ment —we’re call­ing him out on it.”

Mike Ness, a 27-year-old who has been smok­ing mar­i­juana more than half his life, said Thurs­day that ar­rest­ing peo­ple for small amounts of mar­i­juana does not make sense if the drug will soon be le­gal­ized.

“Peo­ple are still go­ing to do what they are go­ing to do,” Ness said. “You can bust them if you want, but it is not re­ally go­ing to change any­thing. If I go to jail, I’m go­ing to come out and smoke a big joint.”

Lau­ren McDow­ell, a 32-yearold who started us­ing mar­i­juana to treat pain af­ter a 2014 car ac­ci­dent, agrees it makes no sense to crim­i­nal­ize pot for more than an­other year.

“It is a plant. I think that’s my big­gest prob­lem,” she said. “It is shame­ful.” The fed­eral gov­ern­ment has said re­peat­edly it has no plans to de­crim­i­nal­ize mar­i­juana un­til le­gal­iza­tion is in place — a goal it hopes to achieve by July 2018.

Trudeau, who ad­mit­ted to smok­ing pot af­ter be­com­ing an MP, told the Bloomberg news agency Thurs­day that Canada’s le­gal­iza­tion strat­egy is built around a recog­ni­tion that mar­i­juana is “not good” for the de­vel­op­ing brains of young peo­ple.

“We need to do a bet­ter job of making it more dif­fi­cult, at least as dif­fi­cult as it is to ac­cess al­co­hol as it can be,” he said.

Crim­i­nal or­ga­ni­za­tions and street gangs collect bil­lions ev­ery year from il­licit mar­i­juana sales, he added, not­ing this money is then fun­nelled into other crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties.

“So you put those two things to­gether and re­al­ize we have a sys­tem that isn’t work­ing,” Trudeau said.

DARRYL DYCK, CANA­DIAN PRESS

A woman smokes a joint dur­ing the 4-20 cannabis cul­ture cel­e­bra­tion at Sun­set Beach in Van­cou­ver.

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