Canadians should not be allowed to grow pot at home while the kinks of cannabis legalization are worked out, the heads of two policing organizations told Canadian senators on Thursday.
Senators studying the government’s proposal to create a framework to legalize pot heard that unclear language in the Liberal bill to legalize marijuana has some police officers scratching their heads as to whether they could be required to care for plants seized under the new regulations.
The policing organizations also suggested that there should also be limits on how much marijuana it is legal to possess in a single dwelling.
“What we want to see is a more gradual approach,” said Gatineau Police Chief Mario Harel, president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.
Harel said the organization he leads wants to see the legislation being studied now amended to remove clauses that would allow for Canadians to grow up to four marijuana plants at home for their own consumption. Police are worried this poses the potential for youth to be more exposed to a product that will still be illegal for them to consume.
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Language under Section 102 of the bill, regarding when individuals will have the right to request the return of their pot plants following police seizure, also has police confused.
The wording states that “a peace officer, inspector or prescribed person that seizes, finds or otherwise acquires cannabis or chemical offence-related property … may return it to the person that is its owner or that is entitled to its possession if the peace officer, inspector or prescribed person is satisfied.”
Harel said that raises questions about what police may reasonably be expected to do to ensure the potential return of seized plants.
“Under the bill, it says we have to return the plants — are we going to have to look after them?”
As well, he warned that a lack of guidelines on how much marijuana can be stored on a single dwelling will leave police unable to act in cases where they believe someone is stockpiling pot to sell illegally.
The bill, as it is written now, allows for a limit of 30 grams of dried cannabis per adult for their own consumption, but does not say how much could technically be stored in a residence. Police say that leaves them in a grey area when it comes to trying to prosecute those stockpiling for criminal purposes before they actually commit illegal distribution.
“We feel there is a gap,” Harel said.
Harel’s concerns were echoed by Tom Stamatakis, president of the Canadian Police Association.
“We see this as an opportunity where a large amount of dried product may be at a residence for distribution illegally,” he said.
Deputy Chief Mike Serr, who serves on the drug advisory committee of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, said the government needs to make sure limits are clear and potential loopholes are closed before the legislation passes.
Any loopholes will be exploited by the roughly 300 organized criminal groups that are involved in the marijuana black market in Canada, he said.
“Putting some limitations and restrictions would make our job easier and assist us,” Serr said.
“Organized crime will not just walk away from this issue.”
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Legalizing marijuana was among the core campaign promises made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and he has said the government remains committed to a pledge to legalize marijuana this summer.
Mark Holland, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of public safety, said last week on The West Block that legalization is on track for the “end of summer,” which could push the date for when Canadians can actually legally buy pot into September.
Senators, however, face a deadline of June 7 to get the bill through the Red Chamber under a timeline agreed upon by Senate leadership and the government in order to hit that goal of summer legalization.
The study of the legislation is expected to continue for several more weeks.