• Daniel Demers

Provinces wrangle with how to handle Legalization

The federal government has set next July 1st as its target date for making recreational marijuana legal. It may accomplish its goal in law (and talking points), but the reality is that provinces and other jurisdictions are taking vastly different approaches and timetables for legalization, and as a result, how you may get your legal marijuana next July 1st will depend on where you live.

While the federal government has retained responsibility for the production of marijuana, much of the responsibility for developing and implementing the framework under which Canadians can actually get their hands on it falls to the provinces, territories, municipalities, and first nations. While these governments are working hard to meet the challenges that have cascaded down to them, there is precious little time and few precedents to draw on.

To better understand the issues involved in setting up a new legislative and regulatory system to manage the distribution and consumption of recreational marijuana, provinces like Alberta and Ontario have recently begun public consultations, and citizens in these provinces are being encouraged to get involved. Other provinces are still contemplating next steps, but we should expect that several online or in-person public consultations in these provinces will be launched before the end of summer.

Much like the federal task force consultations that took place this time last year, the provincial consultations will no doubt help clarify the issues, interests and opinions that government will need to balance—for example, how to prevent the brain damage caused by consuming marijuana before the age of 25 while not sustaining the existing illegal market used by Canadians between the ages of 18 and 25.

What these consultations are unlikely to do is decide the specific language that will define the regulatory framework for distribution and consumption and the necessary laws to protect public safety and mitigate the harmful impacts of legalization through public education and public health programs. These tasks will fall to provincial, municipal and first nations politicians and public servants who will have less than 10 months to complete the public and expert consultations, develop new policies, translate these policies into legislation, pass the legislation through provincial committees and legislatures, draft subsequent regulations and meet the statutory (and common sense) requirements for consultations on the specific draft regulations.

Can it be done in ten months? Sure. Is it likely? No.

Even if the Trudeau Government is successful in passing its legalization legislation through the House and Senate in the upcoming fall and winter sessions of Parliament, the Senate may be the biggest stumbling block in this process. It is clear that with provinces and territories operating under different approaches and timetables we are destined for a typically Canadian system in which all Canadians will be treated equally—with some more equally than others.