Pubdate: Fri, 14 Apr 2017
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Toronto Star
Author: Chantal Hebert
Page: A1
Referenced: Cannabis Act:


Legislation aims to restrict access, but key questions left

Justin Trudeau wants Canadians to see his plan to legalize marijuana
as a massive government intervention to save the country's youth from
the perils of cannabis.

"We want to make it more difficult for kids to access marijuana. That
is why we are going to legalize and control marijuana," the prime
minister proclaimed in the Commons on the day before his government
tabled two bills to implement his election promise.

With the stage set for a less-than-festive announcement, sunny ways
were definitively not in the government's script for Thursday's
opening act in the legislative debate on the legalization of marijuana.

Absent the prime minister - otherwise occupied somewhere else in the
parliamentary precinct - it was left to a quartet of grim-faced
ministers to expand on the legislation.

This they did by showcasing a litany of planned prohibitions and
restrictions, and saying as little as possible about the actual intent
of the policy, which remains to make it possible for adults to procure
cannabis legally.

If the argument that the way to keep more teenagers away from
marijuana is to sell it legally sounds counterintuitive, it may be
because most of us do not remember having a harder time - as
adolescents - getting our underage hands on alcohol and tobacco
products than on cannabis.

There is for now scant evidence that Canada, by going through the many
hoops involved in legalizing marijuana, will achieve Trudeau's
purported societal goal. When it comes to selling cannabis legally,
the state of Colorado has a head start on comparable jurisdictions. It
is not clear that the policy has had the kind of effect on underage
consumption that the federal government says it is looking for. Or,
for that matter, the negative consequences critics of legalization
warn about.

But then the first risk the government is attempting to counter with
the repressive subtext of its dual bills is political. There is
widespread public ambivalence about the Liberal plan. It might not
take much to turn that ambivalence into a backlash. Hence the heavy
emphasis on the introduction of maximum sentences for selling or
giving marijuana to a minor on par with those on the books for raping
a child, and a plan to give the police the right to demand saliva
tests from drivers on a basis as slim as red eyes.

The provinces would also be free to raise the legal age to buy
cannabis up from 18 and to lower the maximum amount of cannabis
allowable down from 30 grams.

The New Democrats have long supported the decriminalization of
marijuana and have no ideological objections to going the extra step
to legalization. They are happy, for now, to watch the government sink
or swim with its bid.

The Conservatives did campaign against Trudeau's promise in the last
election. But there is no consensus on the way forward among their
leadership candidates. Some, like Kellie Leitch, are promising to
repeal the legislation. Others, like Kevin O'Leary and Maxime Bernier,
have expressed qualified support for the move in the past.

There is no need for the opposition to rush to judgment. This debate
will play out for much of the remainder of the Liberal mandate. The
government would like to have the law in place by July of next year,
but with the pricing issues among many others still up in the air, it
would probably be wise to not hold one's breath for the rollout to be
on schedule.

On Parliament Hill, the last few hours before a long weekend and a
two-week parliamentary break are the equivalent of a graveyard shift.
On afternoons when Ottawa's airport lounge is busier than the Commons
lobby, governments have tended to dump potentially embarrassing news,
in the hope that it will get a swift burial.

It is in this parliamentary cemetery Thursday that Trudeau's
government chose to plant the legislative seeds of its marijuana
policy. The choice of timing is not a conventional one for what used
to be a signature platform plank.

But then, like the defunct Liberal commitment to a new voting system,
the marijuana promise was one that no leader before Trudeau had ever
made, and he made it at a time when the party was further removed from
power than at any other point in its modern history.

Based on the collective body language on exhibit on the government
side on Thursday, the two promises have in common that the Liberals
have come to rue the day Trudeau made them.
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MAP posted-by: Matt