As Canada hurtles towards the legalization of marijuana next year, the provinces and territories have begun outlining their regulations for the drug.
So far, the regimes we know about have been a decidedly mixed bag. Ontario and Quebec have gone full narc. Quebec is flat-out banning home-grown plants — even though federal rules allow for four per person. Ontario is planning absurdly harsh punishments for any lingering grey-market dispensaries that might compete with its government retail monopoly, which will only see 40 stores to start.
New Brunswick, meanwhile, is enacting what might be the dumbest individual rule so far: It will require pot stashes to be kept under lock-and-key, like guns, ostensibly to protect children. According to Global News, Denis Landry, the province’s public safety minister, explicitly likened cannabis to guns.
“For people here in New Brunswick who have guns in their houses, it’s locked. It’s their responsibility. This will be the same thing,” he said.
This is just another example in a long line of politicians saying dumb things about pot. Peter Kent, a Conservative MP and former journalist who should know how to, you know, research things, told the House of Commons that legalizing weed is “virtually the same as putting fentanyl on a shelf within reach of kids.”
This is a very stupid thing to say, because a speck of fentanyl can kill you. Marijuana is not harmless, particularly for the developing brains of children, but a 2014 study found that it’s almost phsyically impossible to consume a fatal dose of the stuff.
Meanwhile, in Quebec, public health minister Lucie Charlebois wrongly believes black market weed is laced with fentanyl and that homegrown plants must be banned because kids will eat them. Not to be outdone, an Alberta MLA suggested this week that legal pot may cause a communist revolution.
Even in the Yukon, officialdom is not immune to reefer madness. Consider the case of Lena Josie of Old Crow. Josie was denied a conditional discharge on an assault charge, despite pleading guilty, apologizing and having no prior criminal record.
The reason, according to sentencing judge Michael Cozens, is because Josie admitted to smoking two joints a day. Cozens believes Josie is supporting drug trafficking, which is technically true, though it exhibits a lack of understanding by Cozens about how Canada’s grey market pot industry currently works. Furthermore, Cozens’ decision contains no evidence about where Josie’s weed comes from. He argues that it is not in the public interest to give Josie a discharge, even though marijuana has absolutely nothing to do with the assault. Josie is, understandably, appealing. The Crown, shamefully, agrees with Cozens.
It’s perhaps too much to expect judges and politicians to be experts on every subject they encounter as lawmakers, but it is reasonable to demand that they base their views and policies on something resembling reality.
Fortunately, at the level of territorial politics at least, common sense and reasoned debate are breaking out all over the place. No, seriously.
The government’s pointwoman on pot, Justice Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee, has treated this file matter-of-factly, acknowledging the fact that the government has a tight timeline to put together a Cannabis Act, more or less from scratch. Remember, because of the Yukon’s fixed legislative sitting dates, the government has to get this bill passed by March, even though federal legalization doesn’t kick in until July 1.
“This is the beginning. We’re under a tight timeline, everybody in Canada is, so we’re doing this in stages,” McPhee told reporters Nov. 22.
While there won’t be private retail right away, the government has promised there will be and has also signalled interest in encouraging the creation of a local “craft” growing industry. For the time being, customers will have to make do with a store in Whitehorse and online sales for the rest of the territory.
This is not perfect, and the businesspeople who have expressed interest in opening stores will have to wait.
But there are criticisms from the opposition parties that are also fair. The Yukon Party’s Brad Cathers has said the government’s published five-page framework is too vague and he’s right.
Certainly the government isn’t finished crafting its Cannabis Act, but it could easily release more details.
Cathers is also concerned about the tax on cannabis. Ottawa has mused about charging a 10 per cent excise tax. It’s not clear how the feds will split that money or how much tax the territory will add on its own. Cathers argues the tax needs to be low enough to freeze out the black market, and again, he has a point here.
And NDP Leader Liz Hanson has a point with her criticism of the too-simplistic rules regarding where it will be legal to consume pot. Too start, it will only be allowed on private property or with a landlord’s permission.
There are a couple of problems with this. One, as Hanson points out, is that people with prescriptions for medical cannabis could be prohibited from smoking in their homes. Two, it’s unfair to renters, who will have to rely on the goodwill of their landlords to consume — even outside on their back deck — a product that it’s otherwise legal to buy.
The third thing is that there is so far no differentiation between smoking, vaping and the consumption of edibles (which won’t be legal until 2019). The government is leaving open the possibility of allowing, say, vaping lounges in the future, but these are loopholes it should sort out sooner rather than later.
Still, what’s refreshing here is that both the government and the opposition parties are treating this as a serious public policy issue. The government is aiming for balance and appears not to have included any supremely boneheaded rules like, say, New Brunswick. The opposition is making substantive criticisms based on fair reading of the government’s plans.
Best of all, neither the government nor opposition politicians have said anything blatantly insane, uninformed or stupid. That in itself is a win.
Contact Chris Windeyer at firstname.lastname@example.org