In early spring, 2016, the Government of Canada announced a Task Force to undertake research and consultation with Canadians on the subject of cannabis legalization and regulation. ‘Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation’ (TFCLR) was born and consultations were undertaken June 2016 – November 2016 throughout the country.
MP Bill Blair (Scarborough-South West), in his role as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Jody Wilson-Raybould, was the government’s point person for TFCLR.
The final report of the ‘Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation’, was published Nov. 30, 2016. MP Blair is continuing an outreach tour on the subject of cannabis through more roundtable forums in various communities across Canada, including Sault Ste. Marie, where he stopped on Monday, Feb. 27th, 2017.
“The Task force did a number of round tables, principally with people from four sectors; Justice, Public Safety, Public health and Problematic Substance Use. They were gathering evidence and speaking with a number of people in those sectors, including Medical Associations, asking for their advice and then making recommendations to the government. That process took place from June – December of 2016. Now that we have received the recommendations from the task force, based on the evidence, the government has to now make some decisions.”
Blair stated that he attended most of the task force consultations. “The recommendations were extremely valuable – evidence informed and evidence based. They (TFCLR) did a comprehensive job and put together a substantive report.”
As far as the current roundtable tour goes, Blair shared, “I’ve been asked to go out to municipalities and discuss some of the decisions the government now has to make; To get a more local / regional perspective on these issues.”
“The process of establishing a strict regulatory framework – and that is really what we are talking about – requires looking at how we can more effectively and comprehensively regulate production, distribution and the consumption of this drug (cannabis). We know that the impact will be significant on communities. We think it is important to go out and speak with people who will be impacted.. People who work in areas where a regulatory framework intersects. I wanted to get their feedback, from their perspective, on how to best prepare for the health of our citizens and keeping communities safe. These are the people who are on the ground in our communities.”
Blair said that MP Sheehan brought together, at his request, the roundtable group who met on Monday in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. “MP Sheehan reached out to a number of different people from The Sault. It’s a way to share with thought-leaders about what our government is trying to achieve.”
Sandra Paul, Constituency Assistant, MP Sheehan stated that the forum included “representatives from health care, mental health care, municipal politics, students, education at the secondary and post secondary level. Law enforcement was also represented.”
Blair said that by just focusing on the word ‘legalization’, Canadians are at risk of missing the bigger picture. “The far more important aspect of legalization (cannabis) is implementing a strict regulatory and public health framework.
“I think it’s important now to go to communities to talk about the task force report – to spend some time with it – to explain what the recommendations of the report are – and how they could be implemented by government and the impact on communities.”
“The legislation process we’re going through and a new comprehensive system of regulations is a process – not an event. The process requires that we continue to seek input from the people who will be impacted on them. To make sure they have the information – not misinformation that can be perpetuated about the cannabis legislation process.”
As a former Toronto, Ontario Police Chief, Blair acknowledges that, “Prohibition isn’t very effective at keeping cannabis out of the hands of kids. For those adults who choose to use it, we want to provide the best framework for its responsible use.” Blair served for 39 years with the Toronto Police Force – the last decade as its Chief of Police.
“The criminal prohibition policy is failing us. We have the highest rates of cannabis use among young people than in any other country in the world. The business of cannabis is overwhelmingly controlled by organized crimes – who, frankly, profit in the billions. They don’t pay taxes – they are responsible for much of the violence and victimization that takes place in our communities. We are going to be changing the system of prohibition to a more effective system that takes cannabis out of the hands of organized crime.”
Blair further said, “We want to get this right. It’s our intention to replace the system of control.”
“The evidence is telling us that by replacing the control of cannabis, with a strict system of regulation on production, distribution and consumption, we will be able to do a better job of protecting the health of our citizens, protecting our young people, and taking the business away from criminal organizations.”
Blair stated that he met Chief Keetch, Sault Ste. Marie Police Services. “I wanted an opportunity to explain to him what we are endeavoring to do –and what the recommendations of the task force are trying to achieve. To get his perspective on what he would need – what resources and tools do the police need to maintain the regulations. I’ve met with individual chiefs of police across this country. Police Chiefs are familiar with regulatory law and enforcement law.”
As far as rolling out a federal policy for cannabis, hurry up and wait might be about right.
“We are going to fulfill our commitment and we are going to take our time. Our commitment was not just to legalize marijuana, but to legalize, regulate and restrict cannabis. Those are three public policy imperatives that drive our work.”
“We are committed to evidence based policy. We are committed to going out to get the best advice from experts in the fields of public safety, health and justice. We are still moving this forward.”
Saultonline asked MP Blair how smaller cannabis growers would fare in a Canadian cannabis framework. “The task force recommendation stated that there should be nothing to prevent smaller producers who meet good production standards, to be able to participate in the new cannabis policy.”
MP Blair was in London, Kitchener and Waterloo on Tuesday, Feb. 28th.
MP Blair could not offer a timeline for when the current round table tour will be completed, or when the framework for rolling out the Cannabis Legalization policy will be implemented.
April 20th, 2017 might work. N’est pas?
Excerpt from Task Force final report found here:healthycanadians.gc.ca
‘The Task Force acknowledges that we were not able to hear from everyone who wished to offer their views. However, we are confident that we heard a diversity of views on the central issues in question. Our advice in this report is informed, and shaped, by the perspectives, knowledge and experiences shared with us by so many.’