April 14, 2017
Image: Karl Nerenberg
The Trudeau government wants you to know that it does not want to encourage people to use marijuana. To make that point clear, on Thursday, when the government tabled legislation to legalize marijuana, it also introduced new, tough penalties for drug and alcohol impaired driving and for selling or giving marijuana to children.
The Liberals plan to give police the right to stop virtually any driver and then administer a drug test. Currently, the forces of law and order have to reasonably suspect drug or alcohol use before compelling anyone to submit to such testing.
The Liberals also intend to also make the act of giving or selling pot to anyone under the age of 18 a crime punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment.
The politics of this are clear. Trudeau has to respect his campaign promise to legalize weed, but he knows there are lots of parents and grandparents across the land — including this writer — who worry about an increase in the rate of impaired driving and who do not like the idea of their grandchildren being exposed at too early an age to drugs, even soft drugs.
On Thursday, the Liberals marshalled four cabinet ministers, one parliamentary secretary, and a phalanx of public servants to make this announcement.
The politicians on the stage included Ralph Goodale from Public Safety; Health Minister Jane Philpott; Diane Lebouthiller, Minister of National Revenue; Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Wilson-Raybould’s parliamentary secretary, former Toronto police chief Bill Blair.
All of them had one over-riding message: We are doing this for the children. As Blair put it: “Too many of our kids currently have access to cannabis, and we know that criminal prohibition has failed to protect our kids and our communities, and we need a new approach.”
The new legislation establishes a maximum legal quantity of pot that a person can possess, 30 grams, puts limits on the type of advertising those selling marijuana may use — no celebrities and no messages making pot smoking cool for kids — and lays out a framework for regulation of the legal marijuana industry. But the legislation leaves much to be decided in the future, mostly in consultation with the provinces and territories.
When confronted with these thorny and complex not-yet-resolved issues, Liberal politicians kept going back to the kids.
“As I’ve travelled across the country speaking to people about this,” the former tough-talking police chief said, “I have found an overwhelming consensus in every part of the country we’ve got to do a better job of protecting our kids.”
The Liberals argue that while other jurisdictions, such as Colorado and Washington State, have taken a commercial and regulatory approach to legalization, they have chosen to work within, in Blair’s words, a “public health” framework.
Wilson-Raybould added that the federal pot initiative will be an exercise in “cooperative federalism.” Much of the on-the-ground implementation of the new rules will fall to the provinces and territories. For instance, while the legislation stipulates a maximum possession amount of 30 grams, provinces will be free to set a lower limit. And while the new law would set the legal age for marijuana use at 18, provinces will have the right to put it higher.