Liberal Cannabis Act salesman makes his pitch in Nunavut

Toronto's former top cop Bill Blair says new law will protect children, improve public health


The Liberal MP and former Toronto police chief, Bill Blair, tells Nunavut reporters that cannabis legalization will help keep youth out of the criminal justice system. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)

The Liberal MP and former Toronto police chief, Bill Blair, tells Nunavut reporters that cannabis legalization will help keep youth out of the criminal justice system. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)

The Liberal government’s proposed new law to legalize recreational cannabis will keep children safe, improve public health and reduce the number of criminal charges laid against otherwise law-abiding Canadians, Liberal MP Bill Blair said April 12 at a meeting in Iqaluit.

Blair, a former Toronto police chief who is now parliamentary secretary to the federal justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, is on tour across Canada to sell the Liberal message on cannabis legalization. About 25 people attended a discussion he held at Iqaluit’s Qamutik building.

“There’s an overwhelming consensus among concerned Canadians that the current system is not working and we need to do better,” Blair said in an interview prior to the meeting.

He said the current legal prohibitions on recreational cannabis lead to the criminalization of too many Canadian youth.

A 2014-16 Statistics Canada community health survey showed that one-quarter of Nunavut residents age 12 and up reported using marijuana at least once a week over the previous year and one in 10 reported using the drug every day.

“We want to do a better job protecting our kids,” he said.

Under the new legislation people could be fined for cannabis possession in excess of 30 grams, but would not be given a criminal charge or jailed.

Minors would be ticketed, but not be given a criminal record for possession of small amount of cannabis, Blair said.

Packaging and labeling would also be closely controlled so that the product is not marketed to youth.

The bill would see two new criminal charges created to cover selling cannabis to children and using children to assist in cannabis sales.

“It never will be the government of Canada’s intention to promote the use of this drug,” Blair said.

He said the cannabis that is consumed in Canada is often untested, unregulated and could be laced with other drugs or contain chemicals that shouldn’t be consumed.

During his day in the Nunavut capital, Blair also met with Aluki Kotierk, the president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., as well as Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern and Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson.

Bill C-45 passed second reading in the Senate March 22. It is now undergoing review within five Senate committees.

Should the Senate pass the bill, the legislation would return to the House for royal assent.

Following that, Blair said it would take eight to 12 weeks to implement it and allow for legal distribution and sale.

Currently, the criminal cannabis industry brings in between $6 and $8 billion each year, Blair said. He asserts that legalization will reduce the potential for criminal profits.

He said planned federal taxation on the drug is to be funnelled back into rehabilitation and education.

But “that’s not in the bill,” Patterson pointed out.

Patterson, who just completed his own tour of Nunavut, has promised to vote against the bill unless “iron-clad” commitments are made to fund treatment centres in the territory.

A GN survey completed last fall showed three-quarters of Nunavut residents support cannabis legalization, though roughly the same number want to see restrictions on its use.

In January, the Government of Nunavut began holding community consultations on how cannabis should be regulated in the territory.

The GN also released a 10-page paper outlining potential ways it could implement the bill.

Blair said sales projections are hard to guess, because criminals aren’t very forthcoming with their sales data.

But he said most jurisdictions are planning to start with a carefully monitored and slow start to distribution and sales.

The same attendee also asked about the security of mail order marijuana.

Blair said the mailing of medical marijuana through Canada Post hasn’t been found to be a security risk since it was legalized, so the government has no reason to think regular mail isn’t a safe option.

A separate bill, C-46, amends the Criminal Code to cover impaired driving while high on cannabis.

Ottawa will spend $161 million on cannabis-related training and technology for police, Blair said.

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