Peter Watts: All aboard the cannabis train

Legalizing marijuana for recreational use in Canada
Some, including many in law enforcement, feel the federal Liberals are moving too quickly to legalize recreational marijuana before plans to facilitate such a move are fully ironed out. Ron Ward/Canadian Press

As Parliament resumes on Monday in Ottawa, the Liberal government’s push to get legislation passed that will legalize the use of marijuana for recreational purposes moves into high gear.

The government has stated it wants the new law in place by Canada Day next year, despite misgivings from many quarters that the pace is too quick for the groundwork to be done properly.

Andy McGrogan, chief of the Medicine Hat Police Service and president of the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police, is one of those who feel we’re not ready.

“We need the tools to ensure enforcement of the law, and above all to ensure public safety, especially on the roads,” he told me Saturday on the Alberta Morning News. “We need to get our people trained. At this point, we don’t even know what the rules are going to be.”

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Researcher Elaine Hyshka from the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta recognizes the challenges police face, but says she’s glad to see the legislative process moving forward.

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“I’m glad to see the way the Alberta government is setting up its retail operation for the product,” she told me. “There should not be a cannabis store on every corner. There must be assurances that minors do not get access to the product. And I’m pleased to see that the federal government talks as though it is going to treat cannabis like cigarettes and restrict the amount of advertising that can be done by retailers.”

There are still lots of questions for all levels of government. The federal government is responsible for the initial legislation, including any required changes to the Criminal Code. The provinces will have to enforce whatever rules are put in place, which will come with some costs. Municipalities will be responsible for zoning certain areas to allow for retail shops, which will be a whole other debate.

And then there’s the consumer. Those who presently buy marijuana will be checking availability, prices and content to be sure it meets their needs. If the government price exceeds the black market, it’s pretty clear where at least some shoppers will go. If online sales and delivery take days, it will be the same story.

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The one sure thing is that it promises to be a highly visible and emotional debate for the next few weeks. Canadians may pay more attention to Parliament Hill in Ottawa than usual.

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