Two years into Justin Trudeau’s promise to legalize marijuana by next summer, the Prime Minister’s Office must sort out details like distribution and price. And the PMO needs the provinces to make it so.
It’ll be a tight race. Quebec has said it supports legalization in principle but Lucie Charlebois, Quebec’s minister for rehabilitation, youth protection and public health insists citizens and experts must be consulted. (Quebec’s public hearings — in Rimouski, Saguenay, Trois-Rivieres, Granby, Montreal and Gatineau — began in August and run to Sept. 12.)
Charlebois confirms she’s smoked pot but notes today’s cannabis is far stronger and more likely to lead to mental health issues, especially in young adults. Let’s hear what the experts have to say before rushing to a decision, she added in the June 17 LCN newsclip. (Details on the Quebec government hearings at https://encadrementcannabis.gouv.qc.ca)
So the PMO rejigged its year-old federal-provincial marijuana task force to deal with Charlebois and her provincial colleagues. The current head, Parliamentary secretary to the Justice minister and former Toronto police director Dave Blair is being joined by the rookie duo of Health minister Ginette Petitpas-Taylor and her Parliamentary secretary Joel Lightbound.
Prior to her 2015 election, Petitpas-Taylor worked with crime victims. Her office was in the RCMP headquarters for Moncton’s detachment. (Moncton is the largest Canadian city policed by the RCMP; a monument to three Mounties murdered in June 2014 stands near the Petitcodiac River. Petitpas-Taylor spoke at the dedication.) A mutual acquaintance tells me she has an calm, logical common-sense approach in dealing with people in either official language.
Something I find significant: Access to mental health services was one of Petitpas-Taylor’s main concerns during her time advocating for crime victim compensation.
Louis-Hebert Liberal MP Joel Lightbound was the featured speaker at an Aug. 22 public briefing on the Liberal legislation organized by Vaudreuil-Soulanges MP Peter Schiefke. Lightbound is a Toronto-born 29-year-old McGill law grad who before being elected was practising immigration law in QC.
Lightbound and Schiefke spoke briefly about the federal legislation and the steps in the legalization process. Parliamentary hearings begin this week (Sept. 8). Bills C-45 and C-46, Lightbound explained, are “designed to keep cannabis out of the hands of youth, deprive criminals of the incentive to compete with legal producers and ensure commercial pot meets standards of efficacy and safety.” The federal legislation doesn’t deal with health or public security issues, he said, because they’re provincial concerns.
Trudeau’s problem is getting quick provincial agreement, surely a Canadian oxymoron. Quebec is leading the provinces in wanting Ottawa to take responsibility for the social fallout of legally available marijuana and its derivatives. Federal and provincial laws have to be harmonized, beginning with a standardized litigation-proof test for impairment similar to those for blood alcohol levels. (Lightbound conceded we’re not there yet, but predicted better tests will come with legalization. “Eight American states have given us an overview” on what does and doesn’t work, he said.)
Questioners included St. Lazare mayor Robert Grimaudo, the only municipal official to attend. (Grimaudo can’t believe other Vaudreuil-Soulanges municipalities aren’t participating in these discussions, given their proximity to social problems caused by drugs.) A budding businessman wanted to know whether the government was thinking of Amsterdam-style coffee houses or cigar lounges for indoor on-site consumption. The co-founder of a technical support firm for grow ops wanted to know whether the law would include restrictions on how it’s grown and quality is assured. (Organic weed?)
Concerned parents wanted reassurance the feds would take into effect the possible long-term effects on the brain, or whether marijuana would become a gateway drug.
“It’s not a gateway drug,” Lightbound assured the roughly 100 people in Vaudreuil-Dorion’s Opti-Centre. “The gateway is a dealer telling you what drug to use.”
At times Lightbound and Schiefke sounded more like salesmen than politicians tasked with allaying concerns about the side effects of a national experiment. Legalized cannabis is worth $7 billion annually, Lightbound told the crowd. The right price point is critical, Schiefke added. “The price point [walks the tightrope] between increased use and driving the market underground.”
Price will become the major issue in Western Canada, where friends recently sold their house and moved to Hudson. They spoke about the deterioration of B.C.’s Okanagan Valley city of Kelowna, where oil patch cash, the Vancouver underworld and biker gangs are creating a perfect storm of crime and drug-related medical problems. Price legal weed too low and more people will use. Price it too high, and the mob and the bikers will undercut the legal market.
Legalization’s rollout has been anything but smooth. Liberal bagmen have been sighted in the company of principals and lobbyists involved in legal and grey-area weed production. The Toronto Stock Exchange is trying to get the big players in the Canadian cannabis industry in line. Even through fewer than 60 growers are currently licenced with Health Canada, stories suggest the existence of a number of grey-area non-producing yet licenced growers across the country, including one in the centre of l’Ile Perrot.
As for the notion that Canada’s marijuana stance is Canada’s business, it took one U.S. border agent to impose a lifetime ban on one registered Canadian medical marijuana user to suggest it’s unwise to assume.
As a cub reporter, I covered the LeDain Commission hearings when they came to Montreal half a century ago. The Liberals under Trudeau the Elder commissioned Gerry Le Dain to determine whether the use of cannabis should be legalized or decriminalized. In their majority report, Le Dain, along with commissioners Heinz Lehmann and J. Peter Stein urged the government to begin by repealing the laws against the simple possession of cannabis and its cultivation for personal use. Only commissioner Marie-Andree Bertrand recommended a policy of legal distribution of cannabis, that cannabis be removed from the Narcotic Control Act (since replaced by the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act) and that the provinces implement controls on possession and cultivation, similar to those governing the use of alcohol.
The commission also recommended that the federal government conduct further research to monitor and evaluate changes in the extent and patterns of the use of cannabis and other drugs, and to explore possible consequences to health, and personal and social behaviour, resulting from the controlled legal distribution of cannabis — exactly what Lucie Charlebois is asking.
In the end, Pierre Elliott Trudeau ignored the commission’s recommendations. It’s entirely possible history could repeat itself as his son comes to realize the political cost of what seemed like such a slam dunk in the glow of victory. I’ll be surprised if the Trudeau Liberals can get legalization done by the end of their first term.
Previous blogs on this topic: Pay to Puff, Nov. 29/16; The Great Cannabis Bandwagon, Nov. 2/16; Are the Trudeau Libs downloading more corruption, May 2017