Pubdate: Tue, 18 Apr 2017
Source: Cranbrook Daily Townsman (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Black Press
Author: Trevor Crawley


The federal Liberal government released their plan to legalize
marijuana last week in Ottawa, however, anyone thinking that it is
going to happen overnight is in for a rude awakening.

Kootenay Columbia MP Wayne Stetski says the legislation actually
contains two bills - one bill on marijuana legalization and another
bill amending the criminal code to enact harsher impaired driving
penalties, for both marijuana and alcohol.

First, the legislation has to be introduced into Parliament for first
and second reading, before going to an all-party committee meeting.
That committee can call in experts ranging from doctors to lawyers to
police to testify on the merits or shortcomings of the bill. From
there, recommendations are sent back to Parliament, which are rolled
into a third reading.

 From there, it goes to the Senate, which will go through a similar
process where they can call their own experts to gather more feedback
and can make changes. That gets sent back to the House for review, and
back again to the Senate for approval if changes are made.

All that has to happen before it becomes law, a process which could
take up to 15 months or longer, said Stetski. Throw in the fact that
provinces also have a say in certain aspects of the legislation and
the timeline could take even longer.

Till then, the use and possession of marijuana is still very much
against the law, he said.

"Recreational use of marijuana is not legal today," Stetski said.
"Perhaps it's surprising but there are a number of people who
immediately think, 'Okay, it's going to be legal so it's okay'

"The answer is definitely not."

The bill sets out the legal minimum age of consuming marijuana at 18
years. However, like alcohol, that could vary from province to
province, as each individual government can raise the minimum age if
they choose.

Provinces and municipalities also decide who and how marijuana is

Steaks points to communities in Kootenay-Columbia as an

Some municipalities are more forgiving when it comes to issuing
business licenses for marijuana dispensaries, even though the drug is
technically illegal.

"In the end, municipalities decide if and where in their communities
it will be sold," Stetski said. "The province decides things like
general locations, for example with the liquor stores - you don't have
a liquor store right next to a school.

"The provinces will have to decide several elements on selling and
distribution as well."

Devil in the details

When it comes to the legalization of marijuana, the details

In the proposed legislation, anyone can apply for a license to

Individuals can grow four plants in their own homes as long as they
are under 100 centimetres in height. Consumables in the form of food
or drinks is also allowed under the proposed framework.

Adults can carry up to 30 grams and give up to 30 grams to a

Though the legislation is targeting a legal age of 18, anyone under
that age caught with five grams or less will face criminal prosecution
or receive a criminal record. Anything over and above could result in
a possession offence.

However, it's the penalties that should make people sit up and take

Amendments to the criminal code in the context of selling to minors or
being impaired while driving carry some extremely stiff penalties.

Anyone is convicted of selling to minors could receive up to 14 years
in prison, while the same consequence could apply if someone is using
minors to conduct sales and distribution.

Anyone driving impaired, either through marijuana or alcohol, are
subject to much stiffer fines and jail terms.

A first offence could net a $1,000 fine and a one to three year
driving prohibition. Second and third offences could include more
prison time, in addition to longer driving prohibitions.

"Those are very, very serious consequences," Stetski said, "and I
think people need to know that aspect of it. So when they decided to
included the marijuana, they're trying to - rightfully so - discourage
people from drinking or smoking dope and driving. The consequences are
pretty serious."

Missing from the bills

While Stetski is cautious about the long term outcomes from the bill,
but he also said there are a few omissions that the Liberal government
should have addressed.

Firstly, there should be a pardon system in place for people who were
convicted of simple possession when they were caught smoking a joint
in their younger days.

Stetski says the Liberal government said there is already a pardon
process in place, however, it is complicated and requires expensive
legal help.

Taxation of marijuana - a key talking point for those who favour
legalization of marijuana - is also absent from the proposed

The taxation of marijuana is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of
Finance, and that tax regime has yet to be proposed. Steaks says
revenue from taxation should go back into public health awareness and
education campaigns, similar to the tobacco industry.

Stetski recently held a teleconference town hall with
Kootenay-Columbia constituents to gather feedback on concerns with the
proposed legalization.

Issues raised included ensuring local economies benefitted from any
commercial grow operations, prevent sales to youth, and the impact to

While the legislation will go back and forth from the House of Commons
and the Senate, the true impacts of the bill, if and once it receives
royal assent, won't be noticeable for a few years, at least.

"The legislation is designed to try something different because
obviously just having it illegal hasn't worked all that well, so we'll
see where it goes in the end," Stetski said.
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