Provinces Discuss Delaying Marijuana Legalization

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Premiers from across Canada are meeting in Edmonton this week to promote interprovincial-territorial cooperation and address issues, challenges, and needs of Canadians. One of the topics at issue is the planned legalization of marijuana, which is currently scheduled for July 1, 2018.

A Potential One Year Delay

Manitoba’s Premier, Brian Pallister, is attempting to persuade his fellow Premiers to ask the Prime Minister to delay marijuana legalization by one year (making it effective July 1, 2019). Pallister raised several concerns that he hopes can be addressed through delaying any official legal changes to marijuana’s status in Canada.

Firstly, Pallister wants to learn from the regulation of beer, wine, and spirits and believes that the delay would avoid the problems associated what he has called a “hodge-podge” of the different ages of majority across the country. Both the age of majority and regulations around things like where pot could be sold are the responsibility of each province.

Secondly, Pallister wants more information and additional research into the health impacts of marijuana, including ways of measuring cannabis impairment for drivers. He believes that:

“There are too many unanswered questions, too many issues that have not been addressed for us to rush into what is an historic change.”

Pallister also hopes that extending the deadline will allow for the creation of stronger and more effective campaigns to ensure that driving under the influence becomes as socially unacceptable as drinking and driving currently is. He believes that this has not yet been properly or fully addressed.

Current Positions of Various Premiers

Other Premiers, including Saskachewan’s Brad Wall and Nova Scotia’s Stephen McNeil, have indicated that their provinces are working towards the original July 1, 2018 deadline. However, Wall has stated that he likewise wouldn’t mind an extension, as there are a “lot of moving parts” to making such a big change, and McNeil has noted that it is important for all Premiers to be on the same page.

Ontario is not counting on any extension, and is currently conducting public consultations on marijuana in advance of the original deadline; however, Kathleen Wynne has noted that work is still being undertaken to develop policies on public and traffic safety, on protecting youth, and on determining where pot will be sold.

Quebec’s Premier, Philippe Couillard says that he is likewise not expecting a delay and the province is also working under the assumption that the date of any legislative change will continue to be July 1, 2018.

The Federal Government Plans to Stick to Their Original Deadline

Earlier this summer, the federal government stated that it would stay “firm” on its plan to legalize marijuana by next year, even if it has to “backstop” any provinces that are not ready to tax or distribute the drug by that time. Prime Minister Trudeau noted that the federal government had given provinces and municipalities “lots of time” to comply with pending changes and that it was “time to move on”.

That announcement came in the wake of concerns from federal and provincial finance ministers about whether Canada was ready for legalization after a meeting between the ministers ended with no consensus on a coordinated strategy to tax cannabis.

The Federal Finance Minister, Bill Morneau, stated that tax rates on marijuana should be kept low to prevent marijuana users from potentially seeking out cheaper, illicit sources for pot. He noted that his department had begun to do research into possible tax rates, and what price levels could deter a black market for weed, but that no conclusion had been reached.

However, Ontario’s Finance Minister, Charles Sousa, noted that the provinces will want to ensure that any tax revenue from marijuana will cover what he calls the “substantive costs” that provinces will have to face to prepare for legalization (including law enforcement, public health, education, and distribution).

Morneau was firm that marijuana will be legal by the original deadline, even if Ottawa has to “backstop” provinces that will not be ready with distribution networks, by providing alternate options, such as delivery of marijuana via mail. He noted that he intends to meet with his provincial counterparts again in December and hopes to make significant progress.

We will continue to monitor developments in this area, and will provide updates as they become available. In the meantime, if you have any questions about drug offences,  including possession or trafficking, or any other criminal defence matter, please contact Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947.