Pubdate: Sat, 03 Jun 2017
Source: Telegram, The (CN NF)
Copyright: 2017 The Telegram
Author: Sean Fleming
Page: B11


If people can legally buy alcohol and tobacco at the age of 18 or 19
(not to mention enlist in the military), then how can we justify
setting a higher age for cannabis?

On May 29, the Canadian Medical Association Journal published an
editorial written by its editor-in-chief, Dr. Diane Kelsall, titled
"Cannabis legislation fails to protect Canada's youth."

Dr. Kelsall takes issue with three aspects of Bill C-45, the federal
government's Cannabis Act. She argues that the minimum age for buying
and consuming cannabis should be 21 instead of 18, with limits on the
potency of cannabis for people under 25; that home cultivation should
be prohibited; and that the federal government should set national
regulations for distribution and retail. These well-intentioned
suggestions are misguided and potentially harmful.

An age limit of 21 is unlikely to reduce cannabis use but certain to
fuel the black market. Age limits help prevent youth from accessing
intoxicants, but they would not be effective for adults. At best,
these underage adults would obtain legal cannabis illegally. At worst,
they would turn to illicit cannabis. Provinces would be wise to align
their age limits for cannabis with their age limits for alcohol.

Setting the age limit above 18 or 19 is also arbitrary and
paternalistic. After all, as Dr. Kelsall says, the aim is to protect
youth, not to protect adults from themselves. If people can legally
buy alcohol and tobacco at the age of 18 or 19 (not to mention enlist
in the military), then how can we justify setting a higher age for
cannabis? There is no doubt that alcohol and tobacco are both far more
dangerous substances. Instead of treating adults like children, the
government has decided to launch a "broad public education campaign
(to) ensure that adults can make informed decisions about their use."

Prohibiting home cultivation is similarly arbitrary. We allow people
to make beer and wine for personal consumption, so what justification
is there for prohibiting people from growing cannabis for personal
consumption? Once again, the government's proposal is eminently
reasonable. People who grow cannabis must "take suitable precautions
to protect children and young persons living in their home as they do
now in storing prescription medicine, alcohol or other potentially
harmful substances." Section 12 of the Cannabis Act would, however,
prohibit people from using flammable solvents to make cannabis
extracts, for the same reason that people are prohibited from
distilling their own spirits.

Dr. Kelsall seems to be unaware of the constitutional problems with
trying to federally regulate the distribution and retail of cannabis.
As lawyer Adam Goldenberg points out in a 2015 article for Policy
Options, "Ottawa can legalize marijuana, but its power to regulate it
will be limited." His extensive survey of the relevant case law shows
that regulating the sale of cannabis, like regulating the sale of
alcohol, falls within provincial jurisdiction.

Although the federal government can use its authority over criminal
law to make regulations related to health and safety, the provinces
have the authority to decide when and where cannabis can legally be
sold. The federal government would likely face a constitutional
challenge if it tried to impose Canada-wide regulations of the kind
that Dr. Kelsall proposes.

The Cannabis Act is not perfect, but it does provide a workable
starting point for legalization. The important question now is how
provinces and municipalities should regulate the sale of cannabis. In
this phase, we should keep in mind that regulations are
counterproductive unless they are proportionate and enforceable. If we
tax cannabis too steeply or regulate it too strictly, we will only
drive it back into the criminal underworld, where age limits, quality
controls, and taxes have no force.
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