Pubdate: Thu, 16 Mar 2017
Source: Barrie Examiner (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017, Barrie Examiner
Author: Bob Bruton
Page: A1


This spring's federal legislation is just the spark for legalizing
marijuana in Canada, says the government's point man.

"This is a process, not an event," said Bill Blair, Parliamentary
Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, who was in
Barrie on Wednesday.

"Bringing forward federal legislation ... enables the important work
of developing that strict regulatory framework that controls
production, distribution and consumption."

The Liberals have committed to introducing legislation for cannabis
legalization in the spring.

Blair, MP for Scarborough Southwest, is on a cross-country tour to
discuss this issue, meeting with Canadians and various

His round-table at Barrie City Hall on Wednesday raised some familiar
concerns about how the entire process will work.

Blair said regulations about marijuana production are primarily a
federal responsibility, overseen by Health Canada, and regulations
about distribution are primarily a provincial responsibility done in
consultation with the local jurisdiction.

"I think all three level of government have an important role to play
in this, and municipalities as well will - because they have the local
police force, the local bylaw enforcement people ... who have a role
in enforcement and oversight of these regulations, to make sure
they're effective," he said.

Blair said the marijuana business is worth between $7 and $8 billion a
year in Canada and it's controlled overwhelmingly by criminals.

He said that whatever revenue is generated by marijuana sales, once
they are legal, will be reinvested in research, public education,
treatment, prevention and rehabilitation. "Our focus ... is a public
health approach, all about reducing social and health harms," Blair
said, "and not about revenue generation.

"How do we do a better job protecting our kids than is currently done.
We have the highest rates of marijuana usage among our young people
than any country in the world, and that's unacceptable and presents an
unacceptable risk.

"We need to do a better job of keeping our communities safe by taking
the enormous profits of this criminal enterprize away from the
criminal element, and re-investing whatever money might be generated
from this into things that actually make it safer for our kids, safer
for our communities and for the health of our citizens," Blair said.

There's no specific date this spring when legislation to legalize
marijuana will be introduced, but Blair said it's on track.

Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman, who was part of Wednesday's round-table,
said a number of questions remain unanswered.

"One of the biggest issues is making sure that if there is a
'legalization and regulation' approach, there are sufficient resources
to ensure enforcement," he said.

"So, for example, if distribution and consumption is to be regulated,
who is doing that? Is it expected to be the local police or bylaw
(enforcement), or will it be Health Canada or agencies like the AGCO
(Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario)? How do we ensure it is
never sold to anyone underage?"

Lehman said if it's to be left to local enforcement, municipalities
will need the people, training and tools to do it right - and without
those resources there will be problems.

"The government wants to take a public health approach to this,
whereby production and distribution would be legalized and carefully
controlled - which would be better than today's situation where
essentially organized crime is producing and distributing."

The mayor noted these decisions are often made by senior levels of
government, but the impacts and costs fall to municipalities and their
police forces.

"I am concerned that legalization will increase these burdens,
although they may alleviate others," Lehman said.

He said Ottawa is speaking with the provinces about ensuring that
local enforcement is given the tools it needs to ensure there are
tight controls on age requirements for sales and enforcement against
illegal production.

"I also think it would be better if the government set regulations
across the country in terms of where and how production and
distribution is permitted," Lehman said. "While local municipalities
could possibly control some of this through zoning, for example, it
will add to the regulatory burden and complexity if there are
potentially overlapping regulations at the federal, provincial and
municipal levels, and lead to differing standards in different places."
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MAP posted-by: Matt