Canadians confused about marijuana laws, Ambrose says
Graham Slaughter, CTVNews.ca
Published Wednesday, February 24, 2016 9:44PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, February 24, 2016 9:49PM EST
A landmark ruling by a B.C. judge has cleared the way for medical marijuana users to grow pot at home, but recreational marijuana use remains illegal across Canada -- a fact that interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose says is unclear to most Canadians.
On casual marijuana use, Ambrose said that “everyone thinks it’s legal because Justin Trudeau has been elected and he’s for legalizing pot.”
“(The Liberals) moved ahead with signalling that pot is legal all across this country. That’s what everyone actually thinks, when in fact the law doesn’t say that yet,” Ambrose told CTV’s Power Play on Wednesday.
This has become a problem for police forces across Canada, who are “trying to figure out if they’re supposed to enforce the law or not enforce the law,” Ambrose said.
“The Liberals have made a huge incoherent mess out of this,” Ambrose said.
However, Liberal MP and former Toronto police chief Bill Blair, who is stickhandling the file for the Liberals, was clear that marijuana is still illegal for recreational use.
“It’s really important for people to understand that the law of the land is still the law of the land,” Blair said.
On Wednesday, a B.C. justice struck down the Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations, a set of rules introduced under the former Conservative government that required patients to buy pot from licensed producers. The regulations were a violation of Charter rights, Federal Court Judge Michael Phelan ruled.
But outside medical purposes, marijuana remains outlawed across Canada, with police still able to hand out charges for illegal possession and trafficking of the drug.
The Liberal government has committed to replacing criminal sanctions on marijuana with a strict regulatory framework. But few details have been released about what this format could look like. Several ideas have been floated, including selling pot at government-regulated liquor stores or drug stores such as Shoppers Drug Mart and London Drugs.
The Liberals insist that the new rules would keep marijuana out of the hands of kids and help dismantle drug-related organized crime.
Ambrose said the Conservatives “are not in favour of legalization” but would consider supporting marijuana “decriminalization.”
That policy is a major pivot for Ambrose, the former Conservative health minister, who was once considered a staunch opponent to legalizing recreational weed.
Blair: Canadians should ‘continue to obey the law’
Despite comments from Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale that new marijuana laws could take a few years, the Liberals don’t have a specific timeline for implementing new rules, according to Blair.
Blair says the federal government is working “expeditiously” to legalize marijuana. In the meantime, current legal restrictions against marijuana “should be upheld and obeyed,” Blair said.
A federal-provincial task force will be established in the coming weeks to look at ways to implement legalized marijuana and to make recommendations to the federal government.
“We have the experience of other jurisdictions -- Colorado and Washington in particular -- so we are going to look hard at the experiences of others and try to determine what works best,” Blair said.
He refused to comment on the B.C. ruling, saying that it’s being reviewed by the offices of the health and justice ministers.
Blair added that Canada is engaged in “ongoing discussions” with several international partners, such as the U.S. and several European countries, where recreational marijuana generally remains illegal.
“We don’t do this in isolation,” he said.
Mulcair: Decriminalization ‘could be done overnight’
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair says the Liberal government should take immediate steps to decriminalize marijuana, a move that he says would abruptly stop criminal charges for petty drug possession.
“We think that the easy starting point could be decriminalization, that could be done overnight,” Mulcair said.
Mulcair seemed to echo the idea that the public is confused about whether or not recreational marijuana use is legal.
“A lot of people think that they can sort of hold up the Liberal campaign promise and get off. They can’t, the law is still there. So I guess you could say the Liberals have to stop stonewalling,” he said.
Asked whether those convicted of pot-related crimes should be offered amnesty, Mulcair said, “I think that we’re going to have to get there, because there are so many people being arrested now.”
“I don’t think any adult who is using (marijuana) for personal purposes should ever again have a criminal record -- but the law is still there,” he said.
Emery: Canada needs ‘moratorium on marijuana arrests’
Marijuana activist Jodie Emery, the wife of B.C.’s “Prince of Pot” Marc Emery, lauded the B.C. ruling as “excellent news” for medical marijuana users.
“Canadians do deserve the right to grow their own plants and this court justice said that it’s something that can be done safely and reasonably,” she said.
However, she says that Blair is wrong to suggest that current marijuana laws remain in effect.
“We have a lot of innocent Canadians who get arrested, they lose their job, their home, their children, their ability to travel and volunteer. These are Canadians who are being punished by a law for a plant that’s going to be legal and sold in just a few years to come.”
Emery called for “an immediate moratorium on marijuana arrests” and said the government should offer amnesty to anyone convicted of cannabis-related crimes.
“As Bill Blair said, it’s going to take time. But when it comes to Canadians being arrested, we need to stop that now.”
With files from CTV’s Power Play and the Canadian Press