Blair says pot legalization needs to happen quickly, as police seek delay
Published Tuesday, September 12, 2017 11:06AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, September 12, 2017 8:07PM EDT
OTTAWA – Amid concerns from Canadian law enforcement agencies that police will not be ready to apply legalized marijuana laws by July 2018, the federal point-man on pot says it’s important to get the new regime in place as soon as possible.
"I think it’s important that we focus on getting this job done as quickly as we are able. We’ve established a pretty tight timeline, a difficult timeline, but that challenge is I think, an important one and everybody is working hard to get it done," Bill Blair said in response to concerns raised by the police groups Tuesday.
Speaking before the House of Commons Health Committee which is studying Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, Ontario Provincial Police, and the Saskatoon Police Service all said the tight timeline is making them apprehensive about police readiness.
They say more time is needed to make sure police officers are properly trained to enforce the new legal pot regime.
The government had set July 2018 as their target to have marijuana legalized in Canada.
Blair, as parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Justice, has been tasked with stickhandling the bill through Parliament.
He acknowledged that the "target date" will require considerable work to meet, but made no indication if government is ready to consider an extension.
The former Toronto police chief said that while he understands and takes seriously the anxiety expressed by law enforcement, the current situation is "unacceptable."
Blair said the rollout will become clearer for stakeholders, like police, once the provinces and territories indicate how they’ll approach legal marijuana in their jurisdictions; and how resources will be allocated.
The federal government recently announced that $274 million has been budgeted to assist police and border officials with enforcing the new legal pot regime.
The police forces also want the federal government to reconsider the portion of the legislation that would allow Canadians to grow up to four marijuana plants at home, saying it could make it easier for youth to access, and that it poses a public safety risk.
"The world is watching Canada throughout this process," said the Canadian Association Chiefs of Police spokesperson Mike Serr at committee on Tuesday.
"We haven’t been able to even start preparing any training packages or training in any sense because we, at this point don’t know don’t know what is going to be encompassed in both provincial and federal legislation, or municipal, so we’re sort of in a holding pattern," said Serr.
"Certainly at the onset we are going to have to insure that our members understand completely the legislation, their authorities under the legislation… so that is where we’re concerned."
Conservative health critic Marilyn Gladu said she’ll be pushing for the bill to be amended to remove the provisions that allow for home growing. She also wants the government to extend the timeline for legalization.
"I think it would be a disservice to Canadians if we didn’t do this properly. This is a big change for us," she said.
Tuesday afternoon, the committee heard about the experiences Colorado and Washington had with legalizing marijuana.
A spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Revenue said that state also rolled out legalized marijuana under a time crunch.
"We were flying the plane as we were building it, and that's unfortunate but yes it was done on a more accelerated timeline than we would have liked," said Michael Hartman.
"It does present challenges, but you are able to work through them if you do it thoughtfully," Hartman said.
The bill, as it’s drafted, would allow adults in Canada to possess and use small amounts of recreational marijuana legally. It sets out the parameters around the production, possession, safety standards, distribution, and sale of marijuana. It also creates new Criminal Code offences for selling marijuana to minors. The proposed federal law spells out that it will be illegal for anyone younger than 18 to buy pot, but leaves the provinces and territories to set a higher age.
The committee of MPs is holding a marathon session of meetings, from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. through to Friday, to get a head start on studying Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, before Parliament resumes on Sept. 18. It’s scheduled to hear from dozens of witnesses over the course of these meetings.
Chair of the House Health Committee, Liberal MP Bill Casey, told CTV News that he anticipates the committee will continue to study Bill C-45 into October.