Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister leads potential Prairie push to delay pot legalization

by Invesbrain Thursday, July 20, 2017
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The Prairies could turn into a major pothole on Canada’s road to marijuana legalization.

On July 18, at the Council of Federation, an annual meeting of provincial and territorial leaders, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister called on his counterparts to push the federal government to delay the legalization of adult recreational marijuana use for one year.

Pallister’s provincial Conservative government is no friend of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals and there is an element of mischief in the premier’s call. Forcing Ottawa to delay legalization past its July 1, 2018 target would be another embarrassing retreat for a federal government often accused of breaking its promises. Further regulatory uncertainty would roil already skittish marijuana investors.

Related: Inside the Cannabis bubble

And pushing legalization to 2019 could cause the opening of the recreational market to be postponed past the next federal election.

On the federal level, some of the nerviness regarding the Cannabis Act or Bill C-45, is dissipating. Despite rumours percolating through Ottawa that Trudeau was considering a legislative manoeuvre known as prorogation to reset his agenda -- which could have delayed the passing of Bill C-45 and its counterpart C-46 -- on July 13 the prime minister told reporters the current session of Parliament would continue. And mid-July federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould told CBC News that the government is sticking with July 2018 and that recreational pot would be available by mail in jurisdictions where distribution was not in place.

Related: Net neutrality could affect legal cannabis

However, Manitoba’s neighbouring Prairie provinces met Pallister’s plea with varying degrees of lukewarm responses. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, whose Saskatchewan Party skews to the right like Pallister’s, said he wouldn’t object to a delay in legalization.

On the left side of Manitoba and the political spectrum however, Alberta’s NDP premier Rachel Notley left open the door to a postponement.

“It is a very big job,” Notley told the CBC. “We’ve told the federal government we will do everything we can to be ready but that we are not promising that it will happen and that they won’t at some point receive a request from us to slow it down a bit.”

The concerns Notley, Wall and Pallister share revolve around the fact much of the jurisdictional burden of managing marijuana legalization falls to the provinces, from how pot will be distributed and taxed to age of access to enforcing the new laws on drug-impaired driving contained in Bill C-46 to educating the public on the health and safety concerns around marijuana use.

"I think that there are too many unaddressed issues that need to be paid attention to for us to hurry into something like this, [given] the magnitude of this," Pallister said.

Wall, who told the CBC “there’s a lot of moving parts here”, said he was also concerned with establishing standardized rules across the country on matters such as labelling.

Last month, Alberta’s Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley told the CBC the province would be looking to share information and ideas on legalization with Saskatchewan.

"We should be working across [jurisdictions] to look at each other’s models," she said. "Obviously that’s reliant on people’s willingness to share information and I’ve certainly had some initial conversations with Saskatchewan… because we have some common interests. Certainly there are some people willing to work with us and we're willing to work with them.”

An area of particular concern to Alberta is the effect of legalization on the workplace.

Much like concerns over the roadside testing of drivers for marijuana impairment, employers are concerned, according to the CBC, “the science of detecting and measuring (marijuana) impairment is incomplete.”

The gaps in knowledge over marijuana testing led Derrick Hynes, executive director of FETCO, an employers' association comprised of federally regulated transportation and communications firms, to recommend to the federal task force on legalization last September that the start of a recreational market be delayed until a standard for marijuana impairment can be determined and In it he said the government should delay legalization until experts agree on an established definition of marijuana impairment and "the technology exists to test for impairment to this standard in a proven and reliable manner."
“It's what makes marijuana different,” Hynes said in an interview. “There currently is no ‘roadside test’ to determine impairment. And further, there is no legislated standard for what level constitutes impairment in an individual.”

Related: The last name of the owner of Canada’s first cannabis lounge is, of course, Roach

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