Here’s How the Provinces Are Preparing for Weed Legalization
Justin Trudeau is leaving a lot of the hard work of legal weed to the provinces. So we asked what they will do.
Photo: Randy Risling / Getty
When the Canadian government announced its plans for weed legalization last month, they left a lot of decisions up to the country's provinces and territories.
While the federal legal age to purchase weed will be set at 18, provinces could increase that age, as they do with alcohol. The provinces will also decide how retail markets are set up, determining if weed will be sold in dispensaries, liquor stores, pharmacies, some combination of the above, or even not at all.
All of this will come with a price tag, and some provinces have expressed concern about how much it will cost to roll out the new regime. There isn't a lot of time to figure out the details, as the government has set a deadline of July 2018.
VICE reached out to all provincial and territorial governments to ask for their reactions to the key issues surrounding cannabis legalization. Some agreed to phone interviews, while others sent statements. PEI, Nova Scotia, and Saskatchewan did not respond to multiple requests for comment while BC refused to give an interview or statement, citing the writ period following its recent election, but instead sent VICE a fact sheet. Here are the key takeaways:
As mentioned, the BC Liberals declined an interview with VICE. However, a spokesperson sent over a fact sheet that outlined the government's priorities, including:
- Restricting access for minor
- Quality control for consumers
- Keeping out the black market
- Strategy to control the dispensary influx
The fact sheet notes, "B.C. will continue to target and prosecute traffickers and those who prey on vulnerable people by selling illegal drugs."
Locally, Vancouver has already issued licenses for dispensaries who meet the city's criteria and Vancouver police have said targeting dispensaries is not a priority for them. The province's illegal weed market is currently estimated to be worth billions of dollars.
Despite this, Premier Christy Clark did not lay out a cannabis strategy during her election campaign.
Minister Kathleen Ganley, Justice & Solicitor General
On the retail market:
"The federal report has suggested that selling it in liquor stores is not a particularly good idea and in Alberta we have special circumstances in that we don't have government-run liquor stores. If we did do it that way, it would be very different from other provinces but I think that recommendation in the federal report was made for good and valid reasons so I think that will weigh heavily in our deliberations."
"We haven't outlined what the tax regime is going to be yet. We do have to be careful in terms of the modelling. If you set the price too high you won't get the black market out and that is one of the main goals. Suggestions have been made anywhere from special taxes to just using sales taxes, obviously that wouldn't work here in Alberta because we don't have a provincial sales tax so we would have to do something special."
On legal age:
"The two factors that weigh into this are: on one hand we do know this can continue to have an impact on brain development up to the age 25, although so does alcohol. On the other hand, we do know the majority of users tend to be in that under-25 bracket. If you set the age too high once again you fail to get the criminal element out of the market."
"We're hopeful that they are able to essentially leave enough tax room that we can get it out of the black market and into the market that we want to create but still be able to cover those costs."
On enforcement/illegal dispensaries:
"The important thing to keep in mind is that currently it is illegal, so I think everybody should probably keep that in mind as they're making their decisions… Ultimately the goals are to get profits out of the hands of criminals, to keep cannabis out of the hands of children and to keep our roadways safe. So people who are setting up illegal businesses, it's difficult to know whether they're on the same page in terms of those goals."
On next steps:
"We want to make sure we hear from all sort of different people, from everyone out there in the community. But there's also some groups in particular, obviously the police are very involved in this, the medical community will have a significant influence. But a big piece of this has to do with workplace safety particularly in Alberta, because we have a lot of industrial operations around the oil sands and those workplaces can be very dangerous, so I think we will have to have those conversations."
On the July 2018 deadline:
"I think it's definitely ambitious, I think we can get it done."
Justice Minister Heather Stefanson
On driving high:
"We have taken a proactive approach to addressing concerns around public safety by proposing an interim solution to cannabis impaired driving in the absence of federal legislation. Bill 25, the Cannabis Harm Prevention Act, will allow officers to enforce a 24-hour licence suspension as a stop-gap measure intended to maintain road safety with the legal tools available to us at this time. Our concern is that supports for roadside testing will not be available in time for legalization in July 2018."
"Our province will require resources to assist in our enforcement and education efforts and we hope that money will flow to provinces in order to provide for these important transitional aspects."
On legal age/retail market:
"Since the federal legislation was introduced, we have had productive discussions with our provincial counterparts on engaging in a collaborative approach on details like minimum age and distribution. There are numerous benefits to synchronizing regulations with other jurisdictions, including effective collaboration on education and enforcement."
"Our province has tasked an interdepartmental working group to examine the implications of regulations across government while remaining in contact with the federal task force for marijuana legalization."
Attorney General Yasir Naqvi
"I mean what we've seen up to now in Ontario in terms of retail dispensaries, we know are illegal in the current regime. It's very clear that the only way medicinal marijuana could be sold is online through licensed producers. So, as you know, police in Ontario have been taking steps. But it tells us obviously the potential of that market in terms of recreational use."
On the retail market/LCBO model:
"The premier very early on had sort of mused that that could be one of the options, [with] LCBO retail. We haven't made any of those decisions. We do have the benefit of the task force report that said it is not a good idea to sell alcohol and cannabis side by side. But there are other ways of selling cannabis at a retail level which is through a straight monopoly, that's part of the deliberation. We haven't landed on any one single model yet."
On current raids and enforcement:
"That decision whether to lay charges or not, that's the decision of police at their discretion. We do not tell police whether they do that or not. From our perspective the law is the law until it changes."
"There is definitely cost involved in this and we are of course doing those estimates as well.
Being a regulated scheme, there are going to be regulations, there's going to be regulatory infrastructure, which has costs, there's costs around enforcement of the law as well, there's costs around road safety. And then social responsibility and all the costs that it takes. Anytime anybody says to me that the province is going to make a lot of money out of this, I always remind people that we don't expect a windfall because most likely we will be using all that money to make sure we set this up and implement the new scheme in an effective manner."
"We don't know the timeline. We do know two bills have been tabled in the House but they have two chambers to pass through. At this moment I don't think we can say with certainty how long bills will take to pass through House of Commons and Senate to become the law of the land."
On next steps:
"Our focus has not changed as a result of this legislation, which is to create a regulated use of cannabis in Ontario and really focus on protecting the youth and the vulnerable in making sure we are promotion public health and road safety."
Lucie Charlebois, Minister for Rehabilitation, Youth Protection and Public Health
On next steps:
"We've got a committee here in Quebec to work on the multiple complex issues that we've got to look after and we're 13 ministries that are at the same table. We've also got a committee with Ontario because we think that we might need promote coherent regulations between our two provinces because we're near near neighbours. We're going to talk with them about health, prevention, security and regulations in the workplace."
"I think we're going to need financial support because we have so much additional responsibility that's coming with legalization with cannabis. That's the big concern…. I think we're going to need some discussion with the federal government. I already spoke with Minister Philpott and we intend to meet each other to have a discussion about it."
On July 2018 deadline:
"It's a bit fast, I can't deny that but still we've got to [make it] work because we don't have any choice but to be ready. If you're not ready, you know what can happen, they're going to sell it through the internet…. If we're not ready it might not satisfy all Quebecers."
On public consumption:
"Do we allow it in parks? We just made here in Quebec a law that is fighting against tobacco, where there are children and schoolyards and in parks where there are children, it's not possible to smoke. We made it more difficult, we don't want any more secondary smoking around children, we want this habit to disappear. We want to denormalize smoking."
On the black market:
"From my point of view it's got to be helping at least but we're going to see after price, taxes, make sure that we're near the market that is already there and we know that it's not controlled. I think we cannot say that there won't be at all any illegal things but we're going to work to have at least a lot less criminal organizations that is selling cannabis."
"We're going to have to make sure that police are up to date. They're going to have to be trained on the particularities for cannabis and we're going to need some more equipment when you see people who are conducting [machinery] who have already consumed cannabis, how do we detect it and the technology that they're going to have to use they're going to have to pay for that. For the court of justice, I don't think it's going to reduce [cases]. There's going to be more rules to respect, the age, point of sale, marketing, road safety, public health and where you can consume those products. I think we're going to have more work in justice."
Andrew Parsons, Minister of Justice and Public Safety
On retail market:
"A lot of people think our Newfoundland Liquor Corporation may have a say in the it because they are widespread across the province but we also know there was an issue as it relates to co-location. But to me there is still a lot of work to be done on that. We as a province have different concerns than others, we have a different geography, we have a different demographic. So have to make sure we do what's right for this province."
"This is a huge fundamental change to our country so it will bring changes that do have costs. We also know there's a revenue side to this. There's a lot of people who look at this as a huge revenue stream and I think very early on it's not going to be a huge revenue stream at all, because the amount of money that we need to spend just on the education side, just on the public safety side, we need to make investments to make sure that our population is prepared for this."
On legal age:
"I think that's going to be really heavily discussed during the consultation phase. I know that some people in the medical field are recommending 25. And there is a bit of a difference here as it relates to the consumption of alcohol versus the consumption of cannabis in terms of its effects on the developmental side of youth."
"I think going forward my biggest concern as it relates to cannabis is the road safety side, getting the testing in place. And the other thing comes down to the education side, where just because something's legalized doesn't mean you're allowed to drive under the influence."
Health Minister Victor Boudreau
"Having one of the only licensed producers or manufacturers east of Montreal in New Brunswick, we also see this as a possible economic development opportunity for the province and it's been identified as such in our economic development action plan."
On the retail market:
"Well there are some dispensaries that have opened of course [but] as the law is today they're not legal in the province so I know some have been shut down as well. In some areas of the province the police have been a little bit more vigilant than in others…. I know there are various options that are being looked at it whether it be going with some form of private dispensary, whether it be working with pharmacists, whether it be working with our liquor corporations, which has a network of distribution around the province."
On next steps:
"We're going to be getting an interim report from our working group and from there we've actually created a select committee in the legislature, so elected representatives from all parties are going to consult the population as well just to get some feedback on the federal legislation."
Al Lucier, Assistant Deputy Minister, Community Justice and Public Safety
On not having a retail market:
"The federal legislation proposes that distribution of cannabis can be done in the absence of jurisdictions having a distribution mechanism in place, by coming into force of the federal act. So jurisdictions don't necessarily have to turn their mind to a distribution model if what they want to do is turn their minds to public safety or health or other issues that they perceive as having a greater importance, and then just leave that distribution in the interim up to the federal government."
On public consumption:
"Jurisdictions still have to turn their minds to places of consumption, prohibition around consumption. Currently you can't walk down the streets of many towns, cities, and communities in Canada with an open beer… So I don't think we want to go to a place where cannabis smoking is normalized as an intoxicant and people are walking down the street engaging in that."
On legal age:
"I think the argument for an age that's older than 18 becomes more medically-inclined in terms of the maturation of an individual's brain. And all of that sort of science that goes into that would suggest that probably ingesting any intoxicant, including THC, or cannabis-derived products probably has some potential of greater harms."
On working with other provinces:
"We don't want to create jurisdictions where people are funneling into or flowing to as a result of a different perspective on the legislation…. I spent some time in Ottawa and it wasn't lost on me that most Grade 12 graduations in the Ottawa area spent some time on the Quebec side because the drinking age was younger."
On driving high:
"Many don't, I don't think, recognize that driving is a privilege and I think with that in mind... that privilege comes with some requirements that… you be of sound body and mind when you're behind thousands of pounds of steel hurdling down the road… Citizens of Canada, some of whom I've heard say that moving to suspicion alone [for breathalyzers] is a bit draconian, but we've got to ask ourselves, what is the cost of impaired driving? If those same people lost a loved one to an impaired driving or spent the rest of their life in a bed taking their nutrients and oxygen off a machine, how would they feel about it?"
Statement from government
On public safety:
"Even after legalization there will still be rules and restrictions on cannabis use in order to limit its harmful effects. The [government] is committed to ensure that cannabis stays out of the hands of our children and that second hand cannabis smoke does not impact the health and safety of the public."
"The legalization of cannabis in Canada will also have an impact on transportation laws, the [government] will be ready, at the appropriate time, to introduce any changes to our traffic safety legislation to harmonize with the impaired driving provisions of the Criminal Code."
On next steps:
"To prepare for the new legislation, the Government of Nunavut created an interdepartmental working group among the departments of Health, Finance, Justice, Family Services and Economic Development & Transportation… The proposed legalization of cannabis, in any form, will present new challenges for the territory, including issues of access and distribution, public health, public safety, and the enforcement of any new rules and regulations."
Statement from government
"A [government] committee has been meeting since Fall 2016 to monitor developments at the federal level and begin identifying work the [government] will need to do to prepare for legalization. The working group includes Justice, Health and Social Services, Finance, Education, Culture and Employment, Infrastructure, Municipal and Community Affairs and Workers' Safety and Compensation Commission.
"The committee and its members will continue to review the legislation recently announced by the federal government and begin to identify what steps the [government] will need to take to make sure the NWT is ready for legalization in 2018, including work on the retail sale of cannabis, minimum age for purchase and consumption, drug-impaired driving, workplace safety, and public smoking of cannabis."
Everyone seems to be echoing the Liberals' messaging around keeping cannabis away from young people and out of the hands of organized crime. Preventing impaired driving is also a priority.
While all respondents said they'd organized a working group or committee of some sort, no hard decisions have been made. On the legal age front, most jurisdictions seem to want to strike a balance between what science says about developing brains and not criminalizing young people for possession.
Several provinces indicated that they don't expect to immediately gain a major cash windfall from selling weed, and will require resources from the federal government.
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