Bill Blair continues his tour of Canada this week, meeting with lawmakers, stakeholders, and law enforcement officials to discuss marijuana legalization.
In BC last week, and Ontario the week before, Blair is now back in Ontario and yesterday spoke with media in Sault Ste. Marie to provide a public update on the conversation so far.
Blair once again emphasized the Liberal Party’s ‘legalize, regulate and restrict access’ mantra, stressing some of the Task Force recommendations, like a Federal age limit of 18 and plain packaging to discourage a consumer market.
“It is not the government of Canada’s intention to promote the use of this drug,” Blair told SooToday.com. “Our intention is to restrict its access to young people and make sure adults who choose to use it are given accurate information about the consequences for their health and social outcomes.”
“The current prohibition is overwhelmingly being ignored…so we propose to put in a very strict system of regulation that controls the production of cannabis, where it can be legally sold, under what circumstances, how much, and to whom,” he continued.
Blair also mentions that the process of coordinating all these regulatory changes between federal, provincial and municipal governments could take another year or two.
Neither of these are new revelations. The emphasis on a strict, harm-reduction focussed legalization that discourages use has been a constant mantra of the government, as the focus is on a timeline of years, not months, before full legalization is functional across Canada.
As the federal government provides more clarity to the provinces and municipalities about what the proposed federal regulations will be and what authority the latter two jurisdictions have to regulate things like distribution, taxes, where retail and production/grow sites can be located, etc., the licensing of even more grow/production facilities by the Federal Government to even have enough cannabis to supply the legal market may take years.
Last fall, Nunavut’s justice minister, Keith Peterson, mentioned in an interview that territorial and provincial ministers urged federal Justice Minister and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould at a meeting to implement a 1-2 year “gap period” for different jurisdictions to have time to work out legalization and distribution issues. Peterson also said that issues of municipal and territorial control still need to be discussed, and much of that requires waiting on more federal guidance.
The Territory, says Peterson, is still struggling with a distribution system for alcohol, so cannabis will present similar challenges. His department hasn’t yet looked at issues around distribution.
The emphasis on a non-commercialized market is also not new. At a conference on Canada’s economic future in Toronto last June, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked if legalizing marijuana will allow Canada to to develop a thriving marijuana industry comparable to France’s wine industry.
Trudeau’s response was that the purpose of legalization is to do what prohibition failed at, keeping kids from using cannabis, keeping money away from gangs, not encourage a thriving cannabis industry in Canada. This isn’t to say Canada’s industry won’t be lucrative or generate tax dollars, but it does emphasize that the government’s focus has been and remains on a commercial system that is highly regulated and carefully managed, more likely mirroring Canada’s ‘dark market’ approach to tobacco than the currently less restrictive alcohol industry. (See full quote at end of article).
A dark market refers to regulations that prevent products from being displayed publicly. Many countries, Canada included, do not allow vendors to show tobacco products at all in any convenience store in Canada.
Suggestions from Blair and others in the government for plain packaging for cannabis mirror this approach, despite industry protestations, as opposed to Canada’s more lax rules around how alcohol can be marketed.
— AgriConsult (@AgriConsult) February 28, 2017
Blair, as the government’s ‘law and order’ representative on the ticket, will continue to be ‘checking in’ with stakeholders throughout this ongoing process of legalization, gauging how people’s concerns and suggestions shift over time. How municipal and provincial politicians and law enforcement respond will absolutely be key to a functional legalization system in Canada.
“Look, our approach on legalizing marijuana is not about creating a boutique industry or bringing in tax revenue; it’s based on 2 very simple principles. The first one is: Young people have easier access to cannabis now, in Canada, than they do in just about any other countries in the world—29 different countries studied by the UN, Canada was number one in terms of underage access to marijuana, and whatever you might think or studies seen about cannabis being less harmful than alcohol or even cigarettes, the fact is it is bad for the developing brain and we need to make sure that it’s harder for underage Canadians to access marijuana, and that will happen under a controlled and regulated regime. The other piece of it is there are billions upon billions of dollars flowing into the pockets of organized crime, street gangs and gun runners, because of the illicit marijuana trade, and if we can get that out of the criminal elements and into a more regulated fashion we will reduce the amount of criminal activity that’s profiting from those, and that has offshoots into so many other criminal activities. So those are my focuses on that. I have no doubt that Canadian entrepreneurs will be tremendously innovative in finding ways to create positive economic benefits from the legalization and control of marijuana, but our focus is on protecting our kids and protecting our streets.” - Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Featured image via Stephen Dooley.