Western provinces expect Ottawa to pay costs of pot plan
They’re anticipating financial pressures related to regulation, testing and sharing information.
OTTAWA — At least three provinces are making it clear they expect Ottawa to foot the bill for costs associated with its plan to legalize marijuana – an issue that will have significant impacts in their jurisdictions.
In Edmonton, Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley said there likely be additional financial pressures related to regulation, testing and sharing public information about a legalized regime.
“We certainly are expecting some help with that – in what form that comes is difficult to say without having seen the regulations,” she said.
The government is expected to introduce legislation as soon as next week, ahead of annual “Weed Day” celebrations on April 20, to regulate the use of marijuana.
Manitoba Justice Minister Heather Stefanson said the province told a federally appointed task force that legalizing marijuana would create new demands on police.
Ottawa will need to provide provinces and territories with sufficient financial resources to support law enforcement, particularly in the area of training and equipment to deal with impaired drivers, she added.
“They will also need to provide sufficient resources for inspectors to ensure compliance with marijuana production and storage regulations, rather than trying to rely on police resources for inspections,” Stefanson said in a statement.
Late last month, Saskatchewan also issued a statement saying it is concerned about public safety and significant increases in enforcement costs – a tab it doesn’t plan to pay itself.
In an interview Wednesday, Bill Blair, former Toronto police chief and now parliamentary secretary to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, said the federal government recognizes and respects the role of the provinces in the legalization of marijuana.
“We know that the provinces will have a very significant role, particularly in managing the retail environment and the consumption regulations,” Blair said. “In order to do that effectively, they are going to need to have resources for the administration and enforcement … and so that’s part of an important discussion that will take place between the federal government and the provinces.”
Police are also concerned about training and demands under a legalized regime.
The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police is also urging the federal government to financially support officers seeking to become qualified drug recognition experts, says president Mario Harel.
“Driving under the influence of marijuana is already a situation we are facing now but we believe it is going to enhance the problem once it is legalized,” he said in an interview. “We really need to train more experts.”
He said there now are about 600 such experts across the country and the need is estimated at about 2000.
Field certification training is offered in the United States, Harel said, but it should also be available in Canada.
Blair stressed that the federal government is committed to ensuring that police and courts have technology, training and resources to keep roads safe.
“”It is not just a matter of passing legislation; we need to make sure that our police officers have the technology they need to be able to detect and gather evidence for this offence,“ he said.
“We also know they need more training. … We need a made-in-Canada training program that is accessible to all police services and available in both official languages.”
Police chiefs also want the Liberal government to exclude personal cultivation from its plans to legalize marijuana, Harel said.
The task force on legalization recommended allowing people to cultivate up to four marijuana plants for personal use but Harel said enforcing such limits can be very difficult.
Harel, who is expected to testify Thursday before the Senate’s legal and constitutional affairs committee, said it’s impossible to ensure such pot isn’t being cultivated for the black market.
The association says the dangers of “grow-ops” have long been clear and that allowing home cultivation would make it impossible to control THC levels, pesticide use and perils such as mould.
— With files from Steve Lambert in Winnipeg and Dean Bennett in EdmontonNews from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc. 2016