VANCOUVER – Canada’s justice ministers are asking for clarity and support as they scramble to organize and police an entirely new marijuana industry in fewer than 10 months.
British Columbia Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said he hopes this week’s meeting between federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and her provincial and territorial counterparts will provide more answers about how the Canadian government intends to make good on its plans to legalize pot by summer 2018.
“Obviously, I think the July time frame is a challenge,” he said. “But right now that’s the timeline, that’s the time frame that we’re working towards.”
The justice ministers began two days of meetings in Vancouver on Thursday. Besides pot, the agenda includes discussions around how the justice system deals with people who don’t disclose their HIV status to their sexual partners and the fallout from a Supreme Court of Canada decision that puts a time limit on how long it takes to prosecute a criminal charges.
Manitoba Justice Minister Heather Stefanson said in a statement that her government wants more clarity on how the Canadian government intends to support provinces in implementing The Cannabis Act.
Stefanson stressed the importance of developing proper policy to address road safety and enforcement, regardless of the regulatory regime.
“Our primary concern regarding the legalization of marijuana is the health and safety of Manitobans,” she said. “The federal government must recognize that rushing into something of this magnitude presents tremendous risks.”
Ontario Justice Minister Yasir Naqvi described the deadline as tight but added that his province is working diligently to be ready by July 1, 2018.
Ontario became the first province to make public its plans for legalized cannabis last week, unveiling the outline of a regulatory system that restricts sales to stores operated by its own liquor board.
“The timeline is fast approaching and we have not been wasting our time, fully recognizing that a lot of work has to be done,” Naqvi said.
He added that Ontario developed its plan following extensive consultations and that other provinces and territories will have to find their own way.
The federal government has come under fire for what appears to be a hands-off approach to regulating the sale and policing of marijuana once it becomes legal.
Brian Patterson, head of the public safety group Ontario Safety League, said he is shocked by the federal government’s commitment to an unrealistic deadline that is politically motivated and will put Canadians at risk.
The group released a position paper earlier this month titled “Too Far, Too Fast,” urging the government to slow down and consult more extensively with police forces, health agencies and provincial governments.
“Before you open the pool you better check the chlorine levels and know what’s going on. And we’re just opening the pools because it’s Canada Day,” Patterson said.
“Spitballing in the dark seems to be the method being used to stick to that date.”
Patterson also criticized the absence of scientific evidence to back some of the federal government’s positions, such as allowing 18 year olds to smoke when health professionals have said exposure to marijuana can negatively impact developing brains in people as old as 25.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said repeatedly it is important to act quickly to get marijuana out of the hands of youth, who he says have easier access to weed than beer.
Youth health experts urged a House of Commons health committee earlier this week to develop extensive prevention and public-education campaigns focusing on the harmful effect of marijuana, warning that stronger regulations alone will be ineffective in deterring kids from smoking pot.
Representatives from several law enforcement agencies warned the federal government that there was zero chance police would be ready in time to enforce new laws for legalized pot.