DURHAM — Legislation to legalize marijuana will be introduced in the House of Commons this spring, the government’s point man on the file confirmed during a visit to Durham Region Friday.
“We’re going to keep our promise,” Bill Blair, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Justice, said. “But we’re committed to taking the time to do it right.”
Blair met March 10 at Durham Region headquarters with local politicians, first responders, public health workers and others as part of a consultative process that’s taken him across the country. The roundtable format allowed local representatives to hear about the government’s progress with legalization, and also to voice their concerns, he said.
“I think their perspective is a really important one and a really valuable one in making sure the regulations and the controls that we put in place are workable at the local level,” said Blair. “All three levels of government have a responsibility here, and working together collaboratively is the way to get this thing done.”
Central to the government’s rationale for legalization is regulation of a substance that is widely used by Canadians, to encourage “healthful and responsible” use and to wrest control of distribution from criminals, Blair said. The former Toronto police chief said he’s particularly concerned about young people accessing pot, something the current regime of prohibition is failing to prevent.
“The current system is not particularly effective in keeping this drug away from our kids. And it has in many respects created opportunities for the criminal element to profit enormously,” said Blair. “By taking away the profit from organized crime we believe we can make communities safer. Through control of production and distribution, we can do a better job of restricting youth access.”
Blair noted that until legislation is passed, police will continue to target storefront dispensaries. Durham police raided shops in Oshawa and Whitby last summer, laying charges of possession for the purpose of trafficking.
And even after legalization occurs, distribution will be tightly restricted, he said.
“The law is crystal clear on this. We’re not talking about legalizing the activity that’s taking place in those dispensaries. We’re talking about it being distributed through a licensed, regulated regime, not by criminal profiteers,” he said. “What they’re doing isn’t going to be legalized.”
In attendance Friday was Marko Ivancicevic, an Oshawa-based marijuana advocate who provides consulting services for medical cannabis users. He said that while Blair’s efforts to consult with Canadians are laudable, he’s concerned they may not be gathering input from everyone with a stake in the issue.
“They need to get the perspective of everybody that’s going to be affected,” he said. “I think there needs to be a more fulsome discussion with medical marijuana patients and people who have been part of the industry.”
Ivancicevic said that with legalization pending, police should implement alternatives to charging people with simple possession.
“Resources and finances are wasted on simple possession,” he said. “I think that has to stop.”
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