ALISTAIR MACGREGOR: South Island MP reports on marijuana legislation progress in Ottawa

Still confusion over operation of pot dispensaries on Vancouver Island

The legalization and regulation of marijuana (or cannabis, as the government is fond of saying) has started its trajectory with the introduction of Bill C-45 in the House of Commons last week.

As soon as the 131-page bill was tabled, I was furiously leafing through it and reviewing the notable details. The proposed law will allow authorized marijuana to be bought by anyone over the age of 18, but the provinces may set a higher age if they are so inclined.

The government’s Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation had recommended that provincial governments be allowed to harmonize the age of use of marijuana with their age of use for alcohol. There will be restrictions on branding by bringing in plain packaging rules to ensure there are not colour schemes and/or cartoon characters that could be appealing to children.

For possession of marijuana, adults over the age of 18 will be able to possess up to 30 grams per person and up to four plants per residence. Young people age 12 and up will not have access to marijuana, but if they are found with less than five grams, they will not be criminally charged.

The government also moved a separate bill on impaired driving in the wake of legalization. Drug-impaired driving is a real concern, but there is not yet enough evidence to state what level of marijuana in the blood causes impairment; it is much more complicated than the blood-alcohol limits.

The government has stated these limits will be set by regulation at a later date. I will be reviewing the proposed limits to ensure they are based on proper scientific standards.

There are still many questions I will be bringing to the government to get clear answers for the people of Cowichan-Malahat-Langford. We know that much of the burden will fall on the provinces in terms of the sale of marijuana. The taxation structure has to be designed in a way that confronts the illicit market. Provinces will need federal funding if they are to ensure enforcement of the law.

It is imperative that Canadians are protected when crossing the border into the United States with our new marijuana legalization rules. With the new American administration in place, there have already been issues with racialized Canadians stopped at the border due to Trump’s draconian policies.

These are some of the largest changes contained in the legislation. The problem is that implementation may take at least another 15 months. Residents of Vancouver Island are already very aware of the confusion seen locally with marijuana dispensaries.

My colleagues and I will continue to push the government to immediately remove charges and criminal penalties for simple possession of marijuana, so young Canadians are not saddled with criminal records for the rest of their lives. We believe that those convicted of crimes for simple possession should have that charge wiped from their records now that marijuana will be legal.

As more of these changes become clearer, I will be holding the government’s feet to the fire to ensure that the legislation prevents impaired driving, protects children from exposure and pardons past offences for simple possession.

Alistair MacGregor is MP or Cowichan-Malahat-Langford and NDP justice critic.