Justice minister Tracy-Anne McPhee speaks at a news conference outlining the future of Yukon’s marijuana legislation on Nov. 20, 2017. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Yukon government outlines proposed pot rules

Opposition says revealed plans short on specifics

Shoppers will have to be at least 19 years old to buy cannabis in the territory when the drug is legalized across Canada in July.

Yukon officials announced the basics of their plans Nov. 20. At least one government-owned retail location in Whitehorse will open in time for nationwide legalization and there will be an online retail store for Yukoners in the communities.

For now, the Yukon government is planning to have the sole authority to import, warehouse, transport and distribute recreational cannabis within the territory.

The government will be the only one selling cannabis for now, Justice Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee said. Licensed private retailers will come later.

“Our approach acknowledges the need for additional time to develop regulations including a licencing system for private retail that will reflect Yukon’s interests and values,” she said.

The Yukon government will need to pass its own cannabis bill, presumably during the March sitting of the legislative assembly, to get things in line in time for July.

The government plans to set the minimum age at 19 for possession, consumption and cultivation of cannabis. That’s one year older than the federal minimum of 18 and the same as the Yukon’s rules around alcohol. The proposed Yukon legislation would allow adults to possess 30 grams of cannabis, and grow up to four plants for personal use.

Consumption would only be allowed in privately-owned residences and on adjoining property where permitted by the owner.

In the legislative assembly Nov. 20, NDP Leader Liz Hanson pointed out that this could be a problem for renters and people who use medical marijuana.

“People who use cannabis for medical reasons also need to be considered in this process. We would not want to see a situation where patients are not allowed to take medication they need because they live in a rental unit,” she said.

Deputy justice minister Lesley McCullough said the government is still looking at options to balance the rights of property owners with the rights of Yukoners who rent.

Pot shops

Cannabis will not be for sale inside the territory’s liquor stores. Under the proposed new law cannabis couldn’t be sold in the same place as liquor.

There has been no final decision whether the store will be managed by a branch of the Yukon Liquor Corporation. McPhee said the government is working closely with those officials.

“They do have experience with intoxicants and with their import, and regulation, and sale.”

The day after the Yukon government released its plans, the federal government released a draft of proposed new federal rules.

Ottawa says it wants to create a system that enables “a diverse, competitive legal industry made up of both large and small companies in regions across the country to produce quality-controlled cannabis,” according to its announcement.

Premier Sandy Silver has previously said he is in favour of a craft cannabis industry in the territory.

“This is the beginning. We’re under a tight timeline, everybody in Canada is, so we’re doing this in stages,” McPhee said. “It is something that will likely be contemplated in the future and our legislation will permit that so we don’t have to come back and change it.”

Ottawa also says it plans to have rules around the production and sale of edibles and oils within a year of the act coming into force.

McCullough said the Yukon government would be “working on making those products available as they are legitimized or regulated by the Government of Canada.”

Health and Social Services Minister Pauline Frost said local youth will be consulted to come up with an awareness campaign around the risks of cannabis.

According to the minister Yukon has the highest rate of cannabis use in Canada. Twenty-One per cent of all Yukon adults surveyed have used cannabis in the last year, she said. That’s compared to 14 per cent nationally.

Twenty-two per cent of our youth reported using cannabis within the last 30 days compared to 13 per cent of Canadian students, she said.

“Perhaps they have not had the education that’s needed so we have a lot of work ahead of us,” she said.

Opposition critical

The official Opposition has accused the government of being short on specifics.

Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers said the government still hasn’t said how it plans to tax products.

“If the goal is to end the black market, will the tax be low enough to compete with prices on the black market, or will it simply make law enforcement’s job harder by making it harder to identify illegal marijuana versus legal marijuana,” he said in the legislative assembly Nov. 20.

Earlier this year Prime Minister Justin Trudeau proposed a $1 per gram excise tax for sales up to $10 and a tax of 10 per cent of the total price for cannabis selling at a higher price point.

At the time Silver said the tax rate “makes sense” to him. But Silver is against the proposal to split the money 50/50 between Ottawa and the jurisdictions.

A decision about how the money will be divided up hasn’t been made yet.

Cathers also questioned where the government was going to get its supply from and what it was going to do to prevent people under the age of 19 from being exposed to second-hand smoke.

Hanson meanwhile wanted the Yukon government to pressure Ottawa to have robust quality control. “We are all too familiar with the weaknesses of self-regulation with the tobacco industry and we must learn from this,” she said.

Cathers questioned who will be enforcing this new legislation.

“Will it be municipalities? Will it be the RCMP? Or will it be the Government of Yukon by hiring potentially new inspection and enforcement officers?”

None of those details were part of the Yukon government’s announcement.

Assistant deputy minister of justice Al Lucier said that as far as impaired driving is concerned, a new federal bill C-46, is working its way through the House of Commons.

The bill lays out new offences for having specified levels of a drug in the blood within two hours of driving.

The penalties would depend on the amount of drugs in someone’s system and whether it was combined with alcohol, according to the federal government.

Yukoners can find out more about the Yukon’s plans for cannabis legislation at engageyukon.ca. The government is also accepting public feedback by Dec. 20 via cannabis@gov.yk.ca.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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