As Canada embarks today on a new era of legal recreational cannabis, the Trudeau government will close the door on the old prohibition era by announcing a streamlined pardon process for Canadians convicted of simple possession of marijuana in the past.
A quartet of ministers — Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor — are to make the announcement at a news conference this morning to mark the historic shift from illegal to legal pot.
Blair all but confirmed Tuesday that the government would use the occasion to make it easier for Canadians to get pardons for something that, as of 12:01 a.m. ET today, is no longer illegal.
He reiterated the government’s long-held contention that it would not deal with the issue of pardons until the law legalizing recreational cannabis goes into effect.
“We have said very clearly that we will deal with those existing records in the appropriate way at the appropriate time. Tomorrow is more likely that time,” he told the House of Commons some eight hours before the Cannabis Act was to go into force.
As significant as today is, Blair warned that legalization is only the first step towards a strictly regulated cannabis regime that achieves the government’s twin objectives of getting pot out of the hands of kids and eliminating the thriving black market run by organized crime.
“There’s still a great deal of work to do to make sure we reach our objectives … and that work will continue apace,” he said. “Tomorrow is another important step but there are many more steps to follow.”
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Blair acknowledged there will doubtless be bumps along the road.
Among the potential hiccups are fears there will not initially be a large enough supply of legal cannabis to meet demand, that it may be priced too high to compete with the black market and that police are not ready to test for cannabis-impaired driving.
The Canadian Nurses Association remains concerned about criminal penalties for youth possessing more than five grams of cannabis that “are too onerous” and could jeopardize their future.
The Canadian Medical Association Journal, meanwhile, is calling on the government to fund research to answer questions about the effects of marijuana use over time and “have the courage to admit the legislation is flawed and amend the act” if cannabis use jumps.
Then there’s the patchwork of regulations imposed by provinces and municipalities, with varying rules governing such things as how old a person must be to legally purchase and consume cannabis, how much can be grown at home and whether it can be consumed in public places.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business complains that small businesses are grappling with “inconsistent and uneven” rules about workplace impairment, where cannabis can be consumed and drug testing.
In that respect, Parliament Hill is a microcosm of workplaces across the country.
The Senate won’t be adopting a formal policy on cannabis use, choosing instead to remind senators and employees they must “conduct themselves in a professional manner in the workplace” and not misuse cannabis or any other substance, said Alison Korn, a spokeswoman for the upper chamber.
Members of Parliament have been reminded of their responsibility as employers to provide a safe workplace and deal with impairment concerns. Impairment is “strictly prohibited” for staffers, House Speaker Geoff Regan’s office says, but the same isn’t clear for MPs themselves.
No smoking is allowed inside the parliamentary buildings. But outside on Parliament Hill, cannabis usage “will be regulated as per the existing law within its jurisdiction,” said Kade Remy, a spokeswoman for the Parliamentary Protective Service.
The security force wouldn’t provide further details, or say whether it plans any public education campaigns for visitors. Remy said in a Friday email that the service ”cannot divulge specifics.”
The Canadian Press