Pubdate: Thu, 13 Apr 2017
Source: Montreal Gazette (CN QU)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Philip Authier
Page: A1


Logistics are complicated, but province fears the social costs

The province will table its own legislation in response to Ottawa's
plans to legalize recreational marijuana and is forming a common front
with Ontario to draft an action plan to deal with the expected
sweeping negative social consequences.

Emerging from a meeting of cabinet where the federal government's plan
was analyzed at length, Public Health and Youth Protection Minister
Lucie Charlebois said Quebec is moving rapidly to respond to deepening
concerns - inside government and out - about the increased
availability of pot.

Quebec can't stop Ottawa from acting - the Trudeau government is to
table a bill Thursday - but it does hold an ace: the province has a
say in how the law is applied and how soon, Charlebois told reporters.

The Trudeau government is talking about having the whole process
wrapped up by July 2018.

"It seems pretty quick to us," Charlebois said one day after the
premier said he fears Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's election pot
promise will become a major burden to the provinces.

"It's not been adopted yet," she said. "We are going to work on this
with our neighbours. Our duty is to look after the health of the
population. It's all well and good to legalize but, after that, where
do we sell this, how do we sell this, to whom, the sites? We have to
look at all this.

"Cannabis is not an everyday substance, but we managed over the years
to create a sound framework around the sales of alcohol so I don't see
how we couldn't arrive at the same thing.

"That said, we have work to do and we can't count on a miracle to get
it done."

Behind the scenes, however, senior mandarins are scrambling, not quite
sure what Ottawa's intentions are. A special cabinet committee to
prepare for what's ahead has now been expanded to include 15 ministers
including the ministers of health, education, public security and
finance, Charlebois said.

That's because with one conservative estimate indicating 21 per cent
of the marijuana about to become available will be consumed in Quebec
(39 per cent in Ontario), all those networks will be potentially
overloaded with problems and additional costs.

"My concern is that we do not increase access (to marijuana),"
Education Minister Sebastien Proulx said arriving for question period.
"It needs to be controlled to better restrict it."

Inside the bureaucracy, there are concerns there is not even an
accurate detector for police to measure a motorist's marijuana levels.
Others fear if the government gets into the pot business it could be
on the hook for legal challenges associated with the health perils of
pot in much the same way tobacco firms have been pursued by smokers.

And officials dismissed early speculation that marijuana could
eventually represent as much excise tax revenue as tobacco does to the

"If someone thinks this will become a cash cow, they're dead wrong,"
one senior official told the Montreal Gazette referring to the social
costs - particularly involving youth - of allowing more pot on the

On Tuesday, the C.D. Howe Institute released a study saying the
legalized sale of marijuana could yield additional combined federal
and provincial revenues of $675 million in 2018. The institute
estimates 4.6 million Quebecers will consume 655 metric tons of
marijuana in 2018.

On the other hand, if governments get too greedy, consumers will go to
the black market as they do for cigarettes. For the record, in 2012,
1.8 per cent of Quebecers were daily users of marijuana, which matches
the Canadian average. But one prominent Quebec Liberal poured cold
water on one key federal Liberal argument to the effect liberalizing
marijuana will take organized crime down a notch.

"Organized crime is like bad weeds," said Marguerite-Bourgeoys MNA
Robert Poeti, himself a former Surete du Quebec police officer with 28
years on the force. "You can pull them out, they will grow back. You
can pull them out again, they'll grow back again."

He said organized crime is already preparing alternatives for the
arrival of legal marijuana to ensure it maintains its share of the

But the social costs - which Quebec feels Ottawa is oblivious to - are
the real concern. On Thursday, all the province's political leaders
expressed serious reservations on the use of marijuana.

"As a parent and a former minister of education, I witnessed so many
youths get burned by pot, consumers transformed into persons with
mental illness like schizophrenia," said Coalition Avenir Quebec
Leader Francois Legault.

On Wednesday - highlighting evidence of the risks to young developing
brains - the Canadian Psychiatric Association urged governments to
outlaw sales to youth under 21 and to restrict the potency of the product.

For his part, Parti Quebecois Leader Jean-Francois Lisee called for
province-wide roving legislature hearings to study the pros and cons
of the legalization of marijuana.

He said what Ottawa has done amounts to "confiscating " a debate that
Quebec should be allowed to have on its own, much as it did with
medically assisted deaths.

The hearings would listen to everyone from the public to

"The premier was not elected in 2014 with a promise to distribute
marijuana," Lisee said in the house saying Quebec has to consult the

While not ruling anything out, Premier Philippe Couillard said the
reality is that the legalization is coming and Quebec has to prepare.

"It's clear the easy part in all this is tabling the legislation (in
Ottawa)," Couillard said. "The difficult, complicated part, the one
which will wake up the debate here, is the framework to make it work."

Couillard said while he personally favours the concept of
legalization, the "regrettable" part is that the provinces and
territories were not brought into the mix and now are stuck with the

He suggested Ottawa's decision will mean the province will have to
adopt other legislation to apply the rules and that won't happen in
vacuum. It's at that stage experts and Quebec society would have their

Charlebois indicated a bill will have to be presented in the National
Assembly given the number of Quebec laws affected by the federal plan.

"Our goal is not to trivialize (the issue) but create a framework,"
Couillard said.

"We are not here to moralize youth and other parts of society, but we
will equip out families in the coming days to talk to their children
(about marijuana).

"We do not intend to truncate the debate or impede it. I don't know
why he (Lisee) is letting that impression float. It's completely false."
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