Countdown is on for leaders to figure out where marijuana will be sold and legal smoking age.
Coping with new pot rules, court delays and an escalating opioid crisis are some of the pressing issues premiers will tackle on the final day of their meeting in Edmonton today.
As the Council of the Federation turns its focus from trade and economic issues to criminal justice, one premier is proposing a collective demand that the federal government postpone legalizing marijuana for one year.
Manitoba’s Brian Pallister made the pitch Tuesday, arguing there’s not enough time for provinces and territories to get regulations, road safety provisions and public awareness in place to meet the federal government’s target of July 2018 for legal pot.
“I’m not suggesting we go back and fight the battle around the legalization debate, I’m only suggesting that we should, in a clear-headed fashion, consider the timing of the introduction,” he said.
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Rushing to legalize pot could not only endanger lives, it could jeopardize business relations with the U.S., where many states have strict rules around marijuana, Pallister said. Premiers should use their time and efforts focusing on NAFTA right now and allow more time for public awareness and policy formation around cannabis, he said.
Other premiers in Edmonton for the annual summer meeting did not want to wade too far into the debate before today’s group chat.
Meeting target will be a ‘challenge’
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said her province is working hard to meet the federal target, but conceded it would be a challenge. She did not rule out asking for an extension.
But New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant said that once those tricky issues of production, sales and distribution are worked out, legalized cannabis could be an “economic opportunity” for the provinces.
Marijuana legalization activist Jodie Emery warned that the Liberal bill as proposed will not address the criminal black market problems caused by prohibition, but she condemned any plan to delay legalization.
“It’s absurd, costly and harmful to society to wait yet another year for legalization, and to continue criminalizing millions of Canadians who use cannabis in the meantime,” she said.
Time needed for public awareness
MADD Canada chief executive officer Andy Murie said he has no problem with the current deadline as long as the accompanying legislation on impaired driving passes by December 2017. That would deliver a six-month notice to drivers prior to legalization, he said.
“It also gives six months for police and public education messaging,” he said.
The issue of age of access to marijuana will also be a hot topic for premiers. The federal government has set a minimum age of 18, but some premiers say it should be higher and standardized across the country.
Murie said he expects most provinces will establish zero-tolerance restrictions for using marijuana for drivers 22 and under.
Premiers are also expected to discuss the opioid crisis in communities across the country, as well as the fallout from the Supreme Court’s controversial Jordan decision.
That ruling set timelines for criminal trials, at 18 months for lower courts and 30 months for cases in superior courts. The ruling from July 2016 left provinces and territories scrambling to find ways to speed up court systems to avoid cases being thrown out due to unreasonable delays.