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Governments, RCMP ready for cannabis legalization

The countdown is on. Mark down the date. On Oct. 17, the consumption of cannabis will become legalized in Canada after years of preparation.
WEB High Times Part1

The countdown is on. Mark down the date.

On Oct. 17, the consumption of cannabis will become legalized in Canada after years of preparation.

In 18 days it will officially be legal to purchase and consume cannabis for adults over the age of 18 through licensed retailers across the country.

With Oct. 17 drawing closer, the federal government, provincial government, local government and RCMP all say they are ready for the legislation.

St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron said she is very comfortable with the bylaws the city has passed for cannabis, including a public ban on consumption.

“Considering the amount of feedback we have got from the total ban, I am really comfortable with the decision we made,” Heron said.

What is confusing though, Heron added, is that every municipality across the province will have different bylaws relating to cannabis consumption. Just driving a short distance between St. Albert and Edmonton can drastically change the rules about where residents can publicly consume cannabis.

“There is going to be so much confusion about what you can and cannot do, all across Alberta,” Heron said.

The mayor would like to see the province regulate public cannabis consumption in the same manner it regulates public alcohol consumption so there is consistency across all jurisdictions. But she doesn’t believe the current NDP government has an appetite to regulate public consumption because they are the ones who made the laws in the first place. She hopes that, if there is a change in government, there will be an opportunity to see consistency across Alberta.

Provincially, the government prepared for legalization with the creation of a cannabis secretariat tasked with guiding the NDP government through the process.

Ethan Bayne, executive director of Strategy and Planning at the Alberta Cannabis Secretariat, said they  prepared for legislation by looking at current research on the subject, consulting Albertans and reviewing the outcomes of other jurisdictions that have already legalized the substance.

“I think, generally speaking, given that this was new territory for us we were eagerly looking at all sorts of information we needed to make the system elements we needed to design,” Bayne said.

The Alberta Cannabis Secretariat drew a lot of knowledge from our southern neighbours in states such as Washington and Colorado, where they legalized cannabis for recreational consumption as early as 2012.

One big lesson, Bayne said, they learned was to keep good track of data so they can measure the impacts of legalization on society. Even with tracking data when it comes to health, crime and justice, they are still cautious about the current data set with which they are working.

“Obviously with a substance that is currently illegal people are not necessarily completely forthcoming when we talk about current usage rates, current usage patterns, sources. So even something like estimating the current size of the illegal market is a very challenging exercise,” Bayne said.

Lessons around the legalization of edibles were also taken from American states, Bayne said, with the roll-out of the product causing major problems in places like Colorado. The state didn’t have sufficient regulations around edibles in terms of packaging, labelling and the appeal to children.

“That is an area where Canadian lawmakers took a lesson and said, ‘We can go a little more cautiously, a little more slowly on that front,’” Bayne said.

Edibles are not expected to be legalized in Canada until 2019.

The pricing of cannabis products was also a lesson learned from the United States, Bayne said. The combined impact of state, local taxes and fees and regulatory burdens made it difficult for the legal market to compete with the illegal one they are trying to displace.

“Every jurisdiction in Canada has taken that lesson very seriously and you see that reflected in the approach that we have taken federally and provincially towards cannabis taxation and pricing,” Bayne said.

The federal government will charge a tax of $1 per gram and keep 25 per cent of the money, with the remaining 75 per cent going to the provinces and territories. The Alberta government will collect an additional 10 per cent tax from licensed producers, which is estimated to garner $26 million in 2018-19 and $80 million in 2020-21.

Despite all of the work done to prepare, not all Albertans are completely convinced the government is ready.

An Angus Reid survey showed that only 40 per cent of Albertans are confident in the province’s ability to have a plan in place by the legalization date to regulate the sale and distribution of marijuana. Some 52 per cent were not confident in the province.

Bayne said Alberta is ready for legalization, but has some concerns.

“What worries me is we don’t know what we don’t know. I think we have learned the lessons that others have had to teach us. But this is still a relatively new process and it will have, I’m sure, unique ways of unfolding in Alberta as it has had unique ways of unfolding everywhere it has been legalized so far,” Bayne said.

Now that all the legislative tools have been put in place, the RCMP have started to mobilize to prepare for the changes to the law.

In St. Albert and across Alberta, all RCMP members took an online course to help them understand the new rules and regulations surrounding legalization.

Right now there is no roadside device approved for testing to see if drivers are impaired by cannabis, so the RCMP are relying on subject matter experts.

Insp. Pamela Robinson said members of the detachment were also trained by a drug recognition expert to help spot impaired drivers and ensure officers are operating within the parameters of the law. The detachment also increased the number of members who are trained in standard field-sobriety testing.

“It’s learning the law, understanding the law and then identifying what impaired by cannabis looks like so that we can appropriately respond,” Robinson said.

According to the Angus Reid survey, impaired-driving enforcement is still a concern among Canadians. Some 68 per cent of Albertans are not confident the police in their community are prepared and will be able to stop and enforce new penalties for drivers caught under the influence of marijuana. Only 25 per cent of Albertans responded as being confident in the police.

But Robinson said the RCMP has a plan and is prepared to tackle any challenges that arise, and they will continue to focus on crime data to see where the detachment and the community are being impacted.

“We have a plan and like all plans we have a contingency plan. We have conducted risk assessment and we are reacting to this community need,” Robinson said.

The RCMP will also have a strong presence on the roads in the community after legalization with checkstops planned for the first few weeks.

Bayne said despite being prepared to enforce the law, he still believes the social conversations around driving while under the influence of marijuana are still way behind drunk driving.

"In terms of the social conversation we are 30 to 40 years behind where we are with drunk driving, which has become essentially completely socially unacceptable. And (with) the declines we have seen over the recent decades in drunk driving rates, part of that is enforcement but part of that is social consensus and that is fuelled by education.

“We are not there yet with drug-impaired driving, particularity with cannabis. People don’t necessarily understand the risks associated with it; they don’t acknowledge that it does impair your ability to drive.”

The next steps after legalization, Bayne noted, will be to monitor the situation as it unfolds and continue to educate the public on the safe use and practices of the substance.

TIMELINE TO LEGALIZATION

1923: Cannabis prohibited in Canada

2003: Jean Chretien's Liberal government introduces a bill to decriminalize cannabis but it fails to pass

2012: Members of the Liberal Party of Canada vote at a policy convention in favour of cannabis legalization

September 2015: Liberal Party of Canada leader Justin Trudeau says he is committed to legalizing cannabis

October 2015: Trudeau elected as Prime Minster of Canada with a mandate to legalize marijuana with an expected legalization date of July 2018

April 2017: Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, was introduced in the House of Commons, which would make consuming recreational cannabis legal for people over the age of 18

September 2017: Bill C-45 was amended by the House of Commons Health Committee after more than 100 witnesses came before the group

November 2017: The bill passed in the House of Commons with a vote of 200 to 82

December 2017: The bill was first debated in the Senate

June 2018: After concluding their study, the Senate passed more than 40 amendments to the bill. The House accepted most of the amendments

June 19, 2018: The bill headed back to the House of Commons where the Cannabis Act passed by a vote of 52 to 29

June 21, 2018: The Cannabis Act receives royal assent

Oct. 17, 2018: Legalization


ST. ALBERT RULES

No smoking, vaping or consuming cannabis in any public place in St. Albert

Medical cannabis users will be given an exemption, and will be able to smoke or vape in the same places provided under the smoking bylaw

The city does not regulate consumption on private property

A $250 fine will be issued for breach of the bylaw or a summary conviction with a fine not exceeding $10,000 or an order of imprisonment for not more than one year, or both

PROVINCIAL RULES

Minimum age for purchase and consumption of cannabis is 18 years old

Only four plants can be grown inside a household

AGLC will manage the wholesale, distribution and online sales of cannabis

Privately run cannabis stores will sell the product under strict regulations

Owners and employees of cannabis stores must pass background checks

Stores can only be open between 10 a.m. and 2 a.m.

Stores can only sell cannabis and accessories

Retailers must complete a provincial SellSafe training


FEDERAL RULES

It is legal to carry or purchase 30 grams of cannabis at a time

Edibles are not legal to sell

Cannabis cannot be consumed in vehicles

Driving while under the influence of cannabis is illegal

Packaging and advertising will be regulated, including no promotion, packaging or labelling of cannabis that could be considered appealing to young people


Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

About the Author: Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Jennifer Henderson is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for Great West Newspapers based in St. Albert, Alta.
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