Altered reality: why legalizing pot remains hazy

The Liberal strategy faces a Senate roadblock, questions about police preparedness and concerns that the provinces won't be ready by July 1

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Michael TaubeHappy New Year, everyone! It’s time to remove the thick layer of dust off the crystal ball and predict what Canadians will witness in 2018.

Besides some obvious choices – more mind-blowing tweets from U.S. President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continuing to stumble after every fifth word or so – the issue that could end up among the most controversial is marijuana legalization.

The Liberals made this one of their main campaign proposals during the 2015 federal election. In the party’s 32-point plan, Real Change: A New Plan for a Strong Middle Class, the strategy was to “legalize, regulate, and restrict access to marijuana.”

First, the Liberals would “remove marijuana consumption and incidental possession from the Criminal Code,” and establish “new, stronger laws to punish more severely those who provide it to minors, those who operate a motor vehicle while under its influence, and those who sell it outside of the new regulatory framework.”

Second, “a federal/provincial/territorial task force … with input from experts in public health, substance abuse, and law enforcement” would be initiated to help “design a new system of strict marijuana sales and distribution, with appropriate federal and provincial excise taxes applied.”

While this proposal remains intact on the Liberal Party website, the PM’s grand strategy of legalizing marijuana on Canada Day has gone up in smoke.

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, Ontario Provincial Police and Saskatoon Police Service told a House of Commons health committee in September they won’t be prepared for the government-imposed deadline. And in a Sept. 12 Canadian Press article, OPP deputy commissioner for investigations and organized crime Rick Barnum said if this date isn’t postponed, “there will be a window of six months to a year when police aren’t fully ready, which will allow organized crime to flourish.”     

The Conservative-dominated Senate wants more time to study the two government bills related to legalized cannabis use and impairment laws. Political posturing aside, it’s a fair request because the Liberal-dominated House of Commons took eight months to conduct its own research. While it’s theoretically possible to have everything finalized before July 1, the snail’s pace of daily life in the Upper Chamber makes it highly unlikely.

The provinces and territories are all over the map on the issue, too. 

Ontario passed the Cannabis Act in December and will be ready to open 40 stand-alone shops via the Ontario Cannabis Retail Corp. (a newly-formed subsidiary of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario) on July 1. By contrast, Alberta, Manitoba and Newfoundland and Labrador will implement hybrid models of public and private options, while Saskatchewan and Nunavut haven’t introduced their plans.

No one expected nationwide uniformity on marijuana legalization. Nevertheless, the vastly different models, age limits and restrictions, combined with the likelihood of constant tinkering, mean most provincial and territorial governments won’t be ready.

And what about the hiring process for government-run pot shop employees?

CFRA radio host Kristy Cameron mentioned this during a Dec. 23 radio interview and it’s something few of us have properly considered. You want to have experienced people behind the store counters to sell this product but many of these individuals bring an enormous amount of baggage to the equation. Cameron is right: how do you square the circle in the hiring process? If we can’t figure it out, this could become a huge stumbling block with massive ramifications.

That’s to say nothing of how the United States feels about marijuana legalization. Our biggest friend, ally and trading partner is none too pleased about it.

It appears the PM got the hint, sort of. Trudeau told TVA in a television interview last month “the date will not be July 1, I can assure you of that,” but remains committed to legalizing marijuana this summer.

Is this possible?

In the real world, no. After a few tokes, perhaps.

Troy Media columnist and political commentator Michael Taube is also a Washington Times contributor, Canadian Jewish News columnist, and radio and TV pundit. He was also a speechwriter for former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.


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