Provinces unsure how to move forward on marijuana legalization

Photo from CP.

One of the things standing in the way of clarity around the federal government’s plans for recreational marijuana legalization is the degree of power the prime minister appears ready to give the provinces.

Details of the federal plan, first reported Sunday by CBC News, indicate that several decisions will be made at the provincial level, such as where marijuana will be sold, what the minimum age for purchase will be and what legal pot will cost.

The federal government revealed they’ll introduce their legislation before April 20, a day of global weed celebration, and several provinces have hinted they’ll wait to see what that bill looks like before making too many plans of their own.

And while some provinces promised they’ll be ready for the expected legalization date of July 1, 2018, some officials have expressed concern about having everything in place 15 months from now.

Here’s a look at how people reacted to the news across the country:

British Columbia

British Columbia already has a cross-ministry working group in place to hammer out details of what legalization will look like in the province, but few details of their progress have been released. However, there have been some signs of how the province will proceed.

Earlier in March, the provincial government published a factsheet revealing the B.C. government’s top three areas of concern regarding legalization. They include restricting access to young people before they are of legal age, ensuring consumers receive the product they expect and keeping the “criminal element” out of the industry while addressing the influx of dispensaries.

The province may also have concerns with how to bring existing producers into the legal system, particularly as Canada figures out how to fill the demand once pot is legalized.

Alberta

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said Monday that her province would wait to see federal legislation and hold a public conversation before introducing its own policies for marijuana legalization.

“We haven’t landed yet on the key decision factors because we need to consult with Albertans and we have to know exactly what the federal legislation looks like before we can figure out what our path looks like after that,” Notley told the media, as reported by the Calgary Herald.

This approach has been consistent for Notley’s NDP. Last December, the party said they would decide on a minimum age for legal marijuana use after consulting with Albertans.

Saskatchewan

The lack of details forthcoming about the federal plan for legalization was a problem for Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, who said in a statement to CBC News that he foresaw problems for law enforcement.

For example, police officers don’t have any federally-approved tests for cannabis impairment while driving, Regina Police Service chief Evan Bray explained to CBC News.

Manitoba

In Manitoba, the legislature introduced a bill last week that would give police officers the ability to suspend a driver’s licence for 24 hours if they are suspected of driving while under the influence of marijuana.

Manitoba’s government is working on research and consultation to prepare for legalization, which includes consideration of public safety impacts, provincial Justice Minister Heather Stefanson told CBC News Monday in a statement.

Ontario

Marijuana legalization doesn’t change anything yet in terms of law enforcement in Ontario’s capital, Toronto police spokesman Mark Pugash said Monday, which means the city’s crackdowns on illegal dispensaries that escalated in 2016 can be expected to continue.

Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa said Tuesday that the dispensaries shouldn’t be open at all, because they are illegal, perhaps signalling that the provincial government is not interested in phasing them into a legal system when it comes into place.

The province is currently at work developing a provincial strategy for marijuana legalization. All policy options will be considered, provincial Attorney General Yasir Naqvi said Monday. He added that the province is waiting to see the federal plan before determining how pot will be sold in Ontario.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has said previously that it makes sense for the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, which sells alcohol, to be used to sell marijuana, but the federal task force recommended against selling pot and booze in the same establishments.

Quebec

On Monday, Quebec’s health minister appearedunimpressed with the federal government’s plan to leave many of the decisions around legalization to the provinces.

“We will have to manage all of this,” Gaetan Barrette said at a news conference. “Of course, Ottawa will step back and let us have all the responsibility, as is always the case.”

Barrette’s apparent lack of enthusiasm for developing a provincial plan echoes statements provincial Finance Minister Carlos Leitao made a year ago when he said Quebec didn’t want anything to do with marijuana sales and didn’t have a plan for commercialization.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard told reporters Monday that he wants to see the federal bill before commenting on the approaches Quebec will take. As such, any plans the province may be working on for pot legalization have not yet been made public.

Atlantic Canada

New Brunswick has recognized recreational and medicinal marijuana as key growth areas for the province, the Sackville Tribune-Post reported last Friday, and plans to work with the sector on development are included in the New Brunswick Economic Growth Plan.

Officials from three government departments and two Crown corporations are looking at marijuana distribution in New Brunswick, with plans to release an interim report this summer and a model for sales and distribution in the province by September.

In Nova Scotia, Premier Stephen McNeil said his justice officials are working with their federal counterparts on the correct approaches to legalization, but no specific details have been revealed.

Halifax police chief Jean Michel Blais told CBC News he’d like to see the age of majority set “as high as possible,” citing concerns about the cognitive effects of marijuana on those under the age of 25.

On Prince Edward Island, the province’s only licensed cannabis producer welcomed news of the looming federal bill, saying that it would create new business opportunities in his industry while calling for provinces to price the product competitively.

But in Newfoundland and Labrador, Justice Minister Andrew Parsons said he was confident his province would be ready for July 2018, but that more details would come when the federal bill was introduced.

Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Supt. Marlene Jesso, who was on the federal government’s task force, cautioned the public to expect strict regulation of marijuana, even after legalization.

“Once legalization comes into effect, not everybody will be able to open up their own dispensary here,” Jesso said. “The provincial government and municipalities will decide that.”