Column: Education essential in advance of cannabis legalization

Legalisation of marijuana has started its trajectory with its first introduction into the House of Commons last week. I was there furiously looking over the legislation to ensure that it was a good bill that protected children and ended the war on drugs prohibition on marijuana that has disproportionately affected young and racialized Canadians.

The proposed federal regulations will allow legal marijuana to be bought by anyone over the age of 18. The provinces may set a higher age if they are so inclined. The government’s Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation had recommended that provincial governments be allowed to harmonize the age of use of marijuana with their age of use for alcohol. 

There will be restrictions on branding by bringing in plain packaging rules to ensure there are not colour schemes and/or cartoon characters that could be appealing to children.

For possession of marijuana, adults over the age of 18 will be able to possess up to 30 grams per person and up to 4 plants per residence.  Young people between the ages of 12 and up will not have access to marijuana but if they are found with less than 5 grams, they will not be criminally charged.

The government moved a separate bill on impaired driving in the wake of legalisation. The federal government has planned 9.6 million on a comprehensive public education and awareness campaign, which unfortunately the Canadian Automobile Association has said is ‘’clearly inadequate’’.

There is not yet enough evidence to state what level of marijuana in the blood causes impairment, it is much more complicated than the blood-alcohol limits. The government has stated that these limits will be set by regulation at a later date. I will be making sure that these limits are based on proper science and are not made ideologically.

There are still many questions that I will be bringing to the government to get clear answers for the people of Cowichan—Malahat—Langford. We know that much of the burden will fall on the provinces in terms of the sale of marijuana. Marijuana needs a shared taxation structure that does not gouge Canadians but also stifles the black market. Provinces will need funding if they are to continue to ensure enforcement of the law.

It is imperative that Canadians are protected when crossing the border into the United States with our new marijuana legalisation rules. With the new American administration in place, there have already been issues with racialized Canadians stopped at the border due to Trump’s draconian policies.

These are some of the largest changes contained in the legislation. The problem is that they will only be fully implemented in another 18 months at the very least. There is already much confusion on the ground about the new regulations on marijuana as we see dispensaries cropping up all over the island.

We in the NDP will push the government to immediately remove the criminal penalties for simple possession of marijuana so young Canadians are not saddled with criminal records for the rest of their lives. We believe that those convicted of crimes for simple possession should have that charge wiped from their records now that marijuana will be legal.

As more of these changes become clearer, I will be holding the government’s feet to the fire to ensure that the legislation prevents impaired driving, protects children form exposure, and pardons past offences for simple possession.

 

(Printed in the Goldstream Gazette, April 18, 2017)