The Liberal government’s pot legislation looks like a hand-drawn roadmap of how marijuana will be legalized, instead of the efficient GPS system it should be.
It offers tougher criminal penalties in some cases. It expands some police powers. It downloads a lot of responsibility on to provinces and municipalities. Yet it doesn’t address important aspects of legalization.
In short, legislators know what they want to do: protect children and reduce illegal sales of pot. How they’re going to do it, well, details are either hazy, missing or highly debatable. Here are three outstanding issues:
This bill ought to be a victory for civil liberties, but it slips in an important challenge to them by attempting an overhaul of impaired driving protocols. It eliminates the need for a police officer to be reasonably suspicious that a driver has been drinking before making the person take a breath test. (Currently, while an officer can pull you over for any reason, he or she has to have some grounds for alcohol testing.)
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould says she’s confident this change is constitutional. But the measure is particularly troubling considering that, in many cities, racial minorities are pulled over disproportionately.
Meanwhile, the bill doesn’t lock down the scientific question of true drug impairment, though it talks about penalties corresponding to various THC levels found through saliva tests.
In order to eliminate the black market, the price of legal marijuana must be low enough to undercut the sale of illegal cannabis. Yet the government had little to say last week about the tax structure it proposes. This will be explained, it said, “in months ahead.” So the Liberals are offering essentially no information on one of the most important aspects of legal pot sales.
Regulation vs. legislation
The government plans to roll out other important details through regulation, rather than legislation. This was their answer to questions around packaging, labelling and marketing of legal cannabis. Bill C-45 gives the government the power to regulate this.
So we know that while the legislation will prohibit packaging that’s appealing to youth, no one can yet say whether that means plain packaging, or some colours, or what. The government did manage to say cannabis won’t be sold through vending machines.
There are other big questions. Hopefully, one day, the haze will clear.
– Tyler Dawson, for the Ottawa Citizen editorial board
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