Pubdate: Tue, 24 Oct 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Andre Picard
Page: A11


Drugs - legal and illegal - have so come to dominate the conversation
among federal, provincial and territorial ministers of health that
perhaps we should start calling them ministers of drugs?

At their most recent meeting, held last week in Edmonton, they
discussed the following issues: legalization of cannabis, opioids and
the overdose crisis, pharmacare, mental health and addiction, tobacco
control and antimicrobial resistance as a result of overuse of

Each of those issues is pressing for different reasons, but let's
focus on the one with a hard deadline for action: cannabis.

On July 1, 2018, it will be legal for Canadians to purchase and
possess some cannabis products.

But there are many, many practical issues to resolve before that time:
Where will marijuana be sold? At what price? What will be the legal
limit for possession? Will you be able to grow your own? What will be
the minimum age for purchasing pot? Where can it be smoked? Will there
be cannabis lounges? What are the labelling requirements? How will it
be taxed? How will the tax revenues be distributed? How will we
prevent drugged driving? How will we regulate impairment on the job to
ensure workplace safety? What kind of public-health campaigns will be
undertaken to minimize harm? Will there be different rules for
recreational cannabis and medical cannabis? What happens if provincial
rules aren't in place by the time the federal Cannabis Act takes
effect next Canada Day?

The last question is, unfortunately, necessary because most provinces
and territories have spent a lot more time and energy complaining
about the so-called tight deadline than actually formulating policies.

There is no excuse for the dithering. The federal Liberals campaigned
on an explicit promise to legalize marijuana. Then, in mandate letters
to his ministers in late 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the
legalization and regulation of marijuana would occur during the
government's mandate, i.e., before 2019.

Finally, in April, Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, was tabled in
Parliament and, at 144 pages, it's thorough.

Ottawa made clear its intentions and followed through. As shocking as
that may be in modern politics, it remains that the provinces and
territories have no possible excuse for claiming they didn't know what
was coming down the pipe.

Yet, to date, only three provinces, Ontario, New Brunswick and
Alberta, have issued semi-detailed plans.

Ontario's approach - selling cannabis in sterile, state-run stores
overseen by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario and vowing to shut
down ubiquitous dispensaries - has been greeted with a lot of groans,
but at least it's taking some leadership.

New Brunswick has taken a similar approach, saying marijuana sales
will be overseen by a Crown corporation, and naming the two
distributors from which the province will purchase its supply, but not
much else.

Alberta's framework is the most detailed to date. Possession will be
limited to 30 grams and individuals will be able to grow up to four
marijuana plants. But it's wavering on whether cannabis will be sold
in state-run or private stores, saying it is awaiting public

Other provinces are all hiding behind the "we need to consult" excuse,
but there isn't much needed. Legalization will be a fact in nine
months, and provinces have to make decisions, most of them of a fairly
technical nature. We don't need public debates of whether 25 or 30
grams is the right number, or whether you can grow your pot plants
outdoors or not. We just need clear, explicit rules.

More than anything else, Alberta's announcement highlighted that the
rules could vary considerably between provinces. For example, it says
the rules for where cannabis can be smoked will be the same as for
cigarettes or e-cigarettes, and is considering licensing cannabis
lounges. Ontario, for its part, says cannabis can only be smoked in
private residences.

What Ottawa should be doing is encouraging the provinces and
territories to have as much uniformity as possible, particularly on
key issues such as pricing.

If legalization is going to be successful - and remember, the goal is
two-fold: minimize the harm to young people and recoup revenues from
organized crime - then the price of legal pot has to be competitively
priced and of good quality.

Provincial and territorial governments need to act on cannabis, and
swiftly. They can't continue to bogart the process and harsh
everyone's buzz.
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MAP posted-by: Matt