Saskatchewan sets minimum cannabis use age at 19, rolls out framework
Green is the colour in Saskatchewan, and if you are over 19 you will eventually be allowed to legally smoke a certain green substance. The province has set the minimum age for non-medicinal cannabis use at 19, the same as alcohol.
“It would have been a challenge it use 23 or 25 or a later age. We were afraid it would make it easier for the black market to have been established at lower ages,” Justice Minister Don Morgan said.
Morgan was joined by Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA) Minister Gene Makowsky for the joint announcement. The SLGA will regulate cannabis in the province.
Saskatchewan has released the rest of its legal marijuana framework, which includes a ban on smoking in public places, an additional recreational cannabis ban at schools and daycares, and tough penalties for people under 19 caught with marijuana.
Under the new legislation, those under the minimum age will face a criminal offence under the Youth Criminal Justice Act if caught with more than five grams of cannabis.
“Depending on the quantity involved there could be a period of incarceration, but most likely it would be a fine, probation and some kind of appropriate youth type measure,” Morgan explained.
Those between the ages of 18 and 19-years-old caught with more than five grams of marijuana, selling, or growing the plant would go through the provincial court system instead of youth court.
Possession of smaller amounts will be primarily dealt with through ticketing and seizure. Morgan said that tough penalties for simple possession would be disproportionate to the level of responsibility a youth would have.
The penalties for an adult buying marijuana for a minor would be criminal, according to Morgan.
The province will also adopt the minimum federal standards for home growth, including a limit of four plants per household.
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This is in addition to previously announced pot plans, including a zero-tolerance for drug-impaired driving and the ability for landlords to make rules regarding tenant use. This gives landlords the ability to limit possession, use and growth.
One big question that still needs to be answered is how much will cannabis cost. Makowsky says there will be a minimum price which will be determined by the SLGA.
“You want to find that spot where you can get rid of the black market, but you don’t want to make it so cheap as to incentivize or make it that much more available to particularly young people,” he said.
The minister added that Saskatchewan will be looking at what other provinces are doing for the price. Retailers will have the flexibility to see what works for their stores on top of federal and provincial taxes.
“With a social or a minimum price we don’t want to have loss leaders where it becomes very cheap, as I mentioned earlier, to attract youth and to normalize it,” Makowsky said.
The SLGA is currently in the process of selecting retail permits for standalone cannabis stores. The SLGA has put out a Request for Proposal (RFP) for parties interested in a retail permit. The deadline to respond to the RFP is April 10.
Once the RFP process is complete, the permits will be doled out in a random lottery.
Justice critic Nicole Sarauer is worried that a financial stress test included in the RFP process will exclude smaller businesses from potentially getting into the recreational marijuana market.
The SLGA has 51 retail permits available spread across 32 communities. The three eligible First Nations communities have been given an extension on whether or not they want to have pot shops at this time.
Makowsky says there will be future opportunities for communities that do not have permits to apply.
As for tax revenue, the province will not be including revenue in expenditures in the upcoming budget. Morgan says the province doesn’t have enough information for those projections yet, and this first year will be a test of sorts. The province does not see marijuana as a new source of revenue, but instead will be looking for cost recovery.
That’s a strategy that does not sit well with Sarauer.
“It seems silly. I think this is going to be a big financial concern on both sides, revenue and expenditure. We’re hearing a lot of that from municipalities in particular who are arguing, and rightfully so, that the enforcement issues and side issues will fall at their feet.”
For example, the Regina Police Service estimates legalized marijuana will cost them $1.2 million in training and equipment costs. Currently, it costs approximately $15,000 to send an officer for Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) training in the southern United States. Regina Police Chief Evan Bray wants to add 30 more DRE officers.
Morgan says that DRE officers are essential to impaired driving enforcement across the province, and wants to bring DRE training to Saskatchewan through Police College.
“We certainly want to watch what the cost of operations are. We bare a significant cost of the policing in the province right now, but we’ll certainly want to work out way through that with the municipalities,” Morgan said.
Saskatchewan is the final province to put forward a full pot plan.
“Frankly it’s taken too long to get to this point,” Sarauer said. “Prospective business owners have been frustrated with how long it’s been taking, how little details we’ve received. I’m glad we’ve finally received it, but it’s been way too long.”
The federal government plans to legalize recreational cannabis use by July 1, 2018. However, that date will likely be delayed as the bill is currently held up in the Senate.
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