Local leaders skeptical about marijuana legalization

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A rushed timeline and roadside testing are raising questions

Last week the Liberal government tabled its long awaited legislation to legalize marijuana but provinces and municipalities are already concerned with the costs and responsibilities associated with it.

St. Albert MP Michael Cooper and Mayor Nolan Crouse are both concerned that the federal government is downloading the responsibilities to the provinces and municipalities without providing any financial support.

The bills tabled on Thursday outline the federal government’s guidelines for legalization, which they plan to achieve by July 1, 2018.

The government plans to legalize the possession of 30 grams of dried cannabis for Canadian adults over the age of 18. Provinces have the option to raise the age if they see fit. Canadians will be able to buy the cannabis through the mail or at provincially regulated retail spaces.

Canadians who want to grow their own plants may have four plants per household and edible cannabis will be legalized at a later date.

Cooper said that the timeline is too rushed and does not give provinces and municipalities enough time to prepare.

“The Liberals have imposed a rushed and arbitrary timeline towards legalization that is completely unnecessary other than that the Liberals can make the claim that they finally kept an election promise. Frankly the announcement last Thursday leaves more questions than answers,” Cooper said.

Morinville Mayor Lisa Holmes, who is the chair of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, said that she is also concerned that the government is rushing the process.

“The speed at which government intends to move ahead puts municipalities at risk in preventing adverse impacts in our communities,” Holmes said in a statement. “Many of the health and safety impacts are complex and require collaboration between all three levels of government and time to address.”

Holmes said that things like educating the public, restricting inappropriate use, addressing health and safety issues and enabling coordinated enforcement through RCMP and municipal law enforcement bodies will take time to achieve.

Cooper said that he is concerned that the federal government is “passing the buck” down to municipalities to legislate but not providing any financial assistance to help regulate the newly legal drug.

Cooper estimated that there are “enormous costs” involved in things like roadside detection. He said that every police force across the country will have to acquire new equipment and train the officers to use the equipment to screen for marijuana impairment.

Crouse is also concerned with the costs associated with the new legislation. He said he doesn’t see how there will be much revenue generated from legalization and that any money that is saved will probably be spent to enforce the new laws.

Other questions are being raised with how impaired motorists will be policed and tested. There is not an approved screening device at this point to test motorists to insure they are driving under the legal limit.

“At this time there isn’t equipment that has been tested or approved,” Cooper said.

The new legislation includes a fine of up to $1,000 for motorists who are caught with two to five nanograms of THC in their blood and up to 10 years in jail for serious impaired offences, but there has been no approved roadside device approved to test for marijuana intoxication.

Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley addressed the federal legislation on Thursday and said the provincial government’s main areas of focus are to keep marijuana away from children, keep profits away from criminals, traffic and workplace safety.

Ganley said the government would seek input from Albertans when it comes to the minimum legal age, keeping children safe, and health and safety concerns.

The Cannabis Act proposes stiff penalties when it comes to giving cannabis to minors. People now face 14 years in prison for providing marijuana for someone under the age of 17.

The new legislation also proposed changes to impaired driving laws, that would allow police offers to take breath samples from any driver without a reasonable suspicion they are under the influence.

Crouse said that the city will have to wait to hear from the federal and provincial governments before they tackle any issues on a municipal level, such as zoning.

Cooper said that the Conservatives do not endorse the legalization and would rather see law enforcement given the power to ticket for minor possession.

The Liberal government expects the bill to become law by Canada Day, 2018.

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Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2016. She writes about municipal, provincial and federal politics; court and crime; general news and features.