Cannabis Act - Why I voted no

On Monday, November 27th, The Cannabis Act passed third reading. This was the last vote in the House of Commons before the legislation goes to the Senate for review and approval. The government’s plan is to have marijuana on the market for recreational use starting July 1, 2018.  

I voted ‘no’ to this legislation. Here’s why:

The Liberal government has been told by numerous authorities, including the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, to slow down. There’s no reason the legislation needs to come into effect on July 1, 2018 and law enforcement agents have warned the government of the negative impact its rushed time frame will have on officers, and the safety of Canadians. 

During the committee’s study of the bill, it was reported that nearly 6,000 officers need to be trained and there is no way this will happen within the next seven months. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police said in their testimony  that the “CACP urges the Government of Canada to first consider extending the July 2018 commencement date to allow police services to obtain sufficient resources and proper training, both of which are critical to the successful implementation of the proposed cannabis act.”

Ontario Provincial Police Deputy Commissioner, Rick Barnum, testified that if the government moves forward with its arbitrary deadline, police will be about six to twelve months behind, thus creating a window of opportunity for organized crime to flourish.

But time isn’t the only concern. The cost to law enforcement agencies must also be considered.  A large sum of money is required to train agents on how to properly enforce the new Criminal Code restrictions on recreational cannabis and to procure new equipment for testing and enforcement. This is a huge expense and the federal government isn’t willing to help.

It’s not just law enforcement agents who are upset about the short time-frame. Provinces, territories, municipalities, and aboriginal leaders have all spoken out against the brief window they’ve been given to prepare and the financial burden placed on them to create and enforce new laws and by-laws. 

At the end of the day, the federal government sets the rules for legal possession and the mechanisms for licensing producers and regulating packaging. Provinces and municipalities must determine health and safety regulations, where and how recreational marijuana can be sold, and where it’s allowed to be used. Municipalities must also create new zoning laws to determine whether or not a store can be set up near a school or a half-way house; or if landlords are permitted to prohibit tenants from growing cannabis in rental units.

All of these necessary action items require time and money. Municipalities and provinces are reporting they don’t have either.  Again, the message they’ve sent to the federal government is to slow down! What’s the rush?

If the federal government is willing to disregard the need for time and money, they should at least give weight to public safety concerns.

The recreational use of marijuana will be legal in seven months, but the roadside drug-testing methods currently available to police are insufficient. Agents are instructed to test for oral fluids, but this only proves the presence of the drug, not the concentration, thus making it impossible to know the level of impairment under which the operator is driving. What’s more, there’s no universally accepted limit for what constitutes impairment. Jurisdictions in the United States and Europe where marijuana has been legalized have different limits. 

Lastly and most importantly, the Cannabis Act does nothing to protect children from accessing and using marijuana. In fact, it could be argued that the legislation facilitates easy access and use among youth.

Each household will be allowed to grow four marijuana plants. That’s enough to produce more than 3,100 joints. Who’s going to stop young people from growing a plant or two or stop them from accessing a plant in the home?

Anyone eighteen years of age or older will be permitted to purchase recreational marijuana from a store. Every major medical association in Canada agrees that cannabis use has a negative impact on the brain development of those under the age of twenty-five. There is growing evidence that its use is associated with mental health issues, including schizophrenia.

Furthermore, under the legislation, youth between twelve and seventeen years of age will be able to carry up to five grams (approximately ten joints) of marijuana without getting into trouble. They can be questioned as to how they acquired it, and the marijuana can be weighed, but the drug cannot be permanently seized.

The Liberal government promised to the put a “robust” education campaign in place to educate people about the potential harms of using marijuana, but action has yet to be taken and definitely won’t be put in place before recreational marijuana is legalized.

In short, many Canadians want the recreational use of marijuana to be legalized, but no one asked for a slap-dash approach to be taken. For a government that claims to take consultation seriously, I would expect them to listen to the sensible voices of police authorities, provincial, municipal and aboriginal leaders, medical experts, and the Canadian public.