Pubdate: Tue, 28 Feb 2017
Source: Sault Star, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Sault Star
Author: Elaine Della-Mattia,
Page: A1


The man in charge of touring Canada to promote the legalization of
recreational marijuana says regulating weed will better protect young
people, reduce organized crime and educate Canadians.

MP Bill Blair (Scarborough Southwest), the former top cop of Toronto's
Police Service, said the federal government is adhering to its
commitment to legalize cannabis following extensive cross-country

Blair is charged with travelling across Canada to educate stakeholders
and receive input on various aspects that will result in a spring
introduction of a bill. The Parliamentary secretary to the Minister of
Justice and Attorney General is conducting round tables and meeting
with stakeholders in the public justice, health, education and drug
treatment and prevention sectors, among others, about the legalization
of marijuana.

He said the discussions centre on how the regulations can ensure
Canada better protects children and youth, reduce organized crime
profits and educate Canadians on the health risks associated with drugs.

He was in Sault Ste. Marie Monday talking pot with a round table and
meeting with Sault Police Chief Robert Keetch.

"We're placing all emphasis on a new regulatory system on doing a
better job to protect our kids," Blair said in an interview with The
Sault Star.

As someone who has spent his whole adult life dedicated to keeping
people and communities safe, Blair said the legislation is important
on several different fronts.

Recent statistics show that young people across Canada are using
marijuana at a higher rate than any other jurisdiction worldwide.

"I believe the current system of prohibition is failing us," he said.
"It's not doing a great job at limiting access and we need to get
better at that and get better at giving them the facts that would
allow them to make better health choices."

As a cop, Blair said he knows the drug trade is a multi-billion-dollar
industry, upwards of $7 billion a year and mostly run by organized
crime, who in turn is responsible for much of the other violent crimes
occurring in communities.

By controlling production, distribution and consumption through strict
regulations, the criminal opportunity is reduced, he argues.

Allowing consumers to purchase the regulated marijuana with a known
potency and product will ensure that Canadians choose legal methods to
obtain the cannabis if desired, he said.

The statistics also show that about 40 per cent of Canadians between
the ages of 18 and 45 have reported that they are using marijuana.

"By replacing the prohibition with a far more comprehensive and
effective system of regulation and by putting the necessary controls
on production and taking it away from organized crime, would do a much
better job restricting young people from the drug, protecting our
communities and the health of our citizens," he said.

Politics and policing do mix to Blair.

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police are getting on board but
have questions about how to fight crime and the requirements that
would be needed to ensure enforcement.

Three devices are currently being tested across Canada to ensure users
are not getting behind the wheel of the car and the federal government
understands that enforcement means the need for greater resources -
training, technical resources, staffing and money.

"I think they are quite supportive of a strict regulatory approach,"
he said.

While Blair is hesitant to talk about the revenue aspect of what the
legalization of marijuana would do, he said he personally believes
that money should be reinvested in education, research and

The federal government has not completed any studies on how much
revenue a regulated marijuana system would work but independent
studies have suggested revenue generated could be as much as $30
million annually.

"That's not the government number. We don't have a number. What we're
saying is whatever number is generated should be reinvested," Blair

Investment must also be made up front in the regulatory system and the
checks and balances that are needed for production and distribution,
he noted.

Other issues, like international border concerns, import and export
would still be considered illegal, he said, and some border
communities would face unique challenges.

Among the many outstanding items of consideration, the age of majority
issue remains a sticky one.

Health care professionals argue that marijuana can slow down brain
development in individuals under the age of 25. But Ontarians can
purchase alcohol at the age of 19. Other provinces allow alcohol
purchases at 18.

Blair said the idea is for the federal government to have a minimum
mandatory age of 18 for recreational marijuana use with each province
being permitted to set that age limit higher.

Currently about 70,000 patients are enrolled in the medical marijuana.
The industry is worth less than $200 million a year, he said.

Blair said that even if the legislation is passed, he would never use
the drug - and never has.

"It's not the government's intention to promote the use of this drug.
It's a performance degrading drug and I don't believe it's a healthy
choice but for the 40 per cent of adult Canadians that do make that
choice, we want to make sure they do so safety," Blair said. "This
creates an opportunity for a more effective law and reduce use among
young people," Blair said.
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