Talk about opening a whole cannabis of worms. The Trudeau government is adamant that recreational pot will be for sale July 1, 2018, come hell or high water. With less than nine months to go, there are still more questions than answers and the province and municipalities are scrambling.
At the premiers’ conference in July, Premier Rachel Notley said the provinces need guidance from the feds on five problems: road safety and enforcement; preparation and training on distribution; taxation, public education and how supply and demand of the legal drug might affect the black market. There is still little known about those issues, except that the federal government now plans to split tax revenue 50-50 with the provinces.
What is clear is that the heavy lifting is being left to the provinces and municipalities and the process is too rushed. Last week Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley released a few details including the age of legal sale in Alberta will be 18, that it will be sold from standalone stores, and sales will be kept away from places children gather like schools, parks or zoos.
There are, however, a potpourri of problems to solve. If pot is sold in standalone stores, will the stores be staffed with unionized government workers, as insisted by the Alberta Federation of Labour’s Gil McGowan, who is a powerful friend of Rachel Notley’s NDP government? If so, it’s likely high wages and overheads will mean legal pot will be sold at prices higher than those offered by the neighbourhood dealer. That will ultimately fuel the illicit market. Or, will taxpayers be forced to subsidize the cost of these stores and the unionized workers so the price of legal pot competes with the illicit market? That’s more mind-numbing than a polishing off a big fattie.
What about accessibility to children? While pot sales might be kept away from places where children gather, pot will be allowed to grow where children gather every day – their homes. Adults will be allowed to grow up to four plants per household. Little Johnny might become the most popular kid in school.
It’s hard to imagine how pot rules will be enforced. How will police know Little Johnny’s parents don’t have more than four pot plants in their house?
With no standard of impairment and no technology to measure it, how will road safety be policed? And who will pick up the costs?
Like their proposed tax changes to small businesses or promise to reform our electoral system, the Trudeau government has completely underestimated the complexity of legalizing cannabis. We recognize that the Liberals are anxious to show Canadians they have delivered on at least some of their election promises. That’s no excuse for rushing through an ill-conceived idea just to meet a self-imposed deadline. Before the whole thing goes to pot, the feds need to hit pause and take the time required to get this right. Lives will depend on it.