Pubdate: Tue, 20 Jun 2017
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2017 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Dylan Robertson
Page: A3


Friesen says feds are ignoring important questions about pot

OTTAWA - One way or another, Manitobans will have legal access to
marijuana after July 1, 2018.

The federal government says it's prepared to roll out mail-order
marijuana if Manitoba can't update its laws by Ottawa's 2018 deadline
for legalized pot.

That's left Manitoba Finance Minister Cameron Friesen with "a sense of
frustration" as he left a two-day summit of his provincial and federal

Friesen accused Ottawa of ignoring unanswered questions on issues such
as public safety, enforcement and finding legal supplies of marijuana.
He said federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau "seemed firm" against
Friesen's request for an unspecified extension.

"We're saying let's have a conversation about these very complex
issues; we need to get this right," Friesen told the Free Press. "The
federal minister is a bit resistant to the issues we're raising."

Friesen raised the issue of increased distracted-driving incidents,
which already make up for a third of road accidents in Manitoba. He
also said sudden legalization would lead to a limited supply of
government-owned pot, giving drug dealers a competitive advantage.

"We really get one chance to get this right," he said.

Friesen claimed his Quebec and Nova Scotia counterparts also wanted an
extension, but Nova Scotia finance spokeswoman Marla MacInnis denied
this, while Quebec's minister told media he hadn't sought an extension.

Morneau insists there's enough time to navigate issues around the
legislation, which the Liberals tabled in April.

"To get things done, you need to set a timeline," he

Morneau suggested the feds will "be the backstop" in distributing and
taxing marijuana in some provinces "if they're not able to get there
in time." That would include a mail-order system similar to one
currently used for medicinal marijuana.

Pot taxation is expected to stay low to ensure the regulated market
squeezes out the illegal activity. But lawmakers have yet to offer
details on how tax revenues could be shared between provinces and the
federal government.

Ottawa has signalled it would like to reach a "co-ordinated approach"
with the provinces. Finance ministers like Friesen insist they receive
a share of pot-related tax revenue, to fairly reflect the added
policing and regulations costs provinces will have to assume on the
road to legalization.

Morneau said some of his counterparts - whom he carefully avoided
naming - were worried about different ages of majority that currently
apply for buying alcohol and uneven sales taxes among provinces,
including Alberta, which has no provincial tax.

He claimed the provinces didn't discuss revenue estimates or even
rough tax rates, because their priority is keeping marijuana away from

He said officials need "more evidence" to decide whether marijuana
will be taxed by volume or potency.

But he stressed a year is enough time to set tax rates.

"We've given ourselves, we believe, ample time," Morneau said,
suggesting the finance ministers' next meeting in December will give
provinces time to develop their own plans.

But Friesen says that's not enough time to co-ordinate.

The province tabled provincial Bill 25 "as a stop-gap measure" in
February, Friesen said, in case Ottawa acted too quickly. "Hopefully,
they will bend. Hopefully there'll be that acknowledgment that this is
just too much, too soon."

Friesen also said a cannabis working group has been assessing the next
steps on key issues such as taxation, consumption, sobriety tests and
public awareness campaigns. "We can't have a half-baked cake here."

Meanwhile, Friesen said he didn't raise the situation in Churchill
with officials in Ottawa.

The only land transportation into the northern Manitoba town, the
railway run by Omnitrax, has been derailed by poor track conditions.

Similarily, Morneau said the two didn't discuss the federal carbon
tax, nor the outstanding health accord. Manitoba is the only province
to have not signed Ottawa's health-care agreement and it joins
Saskatchewan in holding out on implementing its version of a carbon
tax - which Ottawa says it will implement on provinces who haven't set
a levy by 2018.
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