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This article was published 16/12/2016 (1168 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — It seems pretty clear Canada is going to fully legalize small amounts of marijuana for recreational use in just a matter of months.
The marijuana task force reported its findings publicly this week, recommending recreational use be legalized with certain limitations, including how much can be grown or possessed at a time and where it can be sold. Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said Tuesday plans are in place to introduce legislation for legalization in spring 2017.
There is no indication the government is going to put the train back in the station on this one.
Back in Manitoba, Premier Brian Pallister’s government is intent on waiting to respond until the legislation is laid out in full.
Crown Services Minister Ron Schuler even said earlier this year the government doesn’t want to spend a lot of money on the issue until the feds lay out their whole hand.
There are many things that do have to wait, including deciding how to regulate the sale, whether Canada will give provinces leeway on the minimum age for pot use and exactly where it can be sold.
And sure, Pallister can continue, rightly, to push Ottawa to slow things down until things are in place, including better roadside testing for marijuana use.
But whether Ottawa holds off a few months or even a year, there are things the province should already be doing — with or without legalized pot.
Young people in Canada are already accessing pot at alarming rates. Statistics Canada reports one-fifth of Canadians between 15 and 19 smoke marijuana.
A UNICEF study in 2013 found 28 per cent of Canadian kids between 11 and 15 had used marijuana in the previous year, the highest rate of pot use in that age group in 29 of the world’s wealthiest nations. The suggestion is legalizing it and regulating it will make it harder for kids to get — something the experience in the Netherlands might back up.
But why are we waiting at all to start massive public-awareness campaigns about the dangers to kids of smoking weed, on par with anti-tobacco campaigns that have helped drive tobacco use down to record lows in most of the country? When I was a teenager, smoking cigarettes was considered cool; but several decades of effort to make smoking seem gross, to ban it in public, to denormalize it and let people know it can kill you, have worked. Why are we waiting even one more day to do the same with pot?
Then there is the driving issue, which Pallister has raised as one of his chief concerns. Task force head Anne McLellan herself noted Tuesday drug-impaired driving is not something that’s going to suddenly appear in Canada after marijuana is legalized. It already exists.
The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse made clear years ago drug-impaired driving was already a significant problem, almost on par with alcohol. Its 2011 report said a study of nearly 13,000 drivers who were killed between 2000 and 2007 found one-third had drugs in their system, while 39 per cent had alcohol.
That’s almost 4,300 people killed while driving high in seven years, and that was a decade ago already.
This doesn’t include crashes where the drivers were not killed but their passengers were, nor did it include crashes where drivers or passengers were injured.
We may not know yet exactly how much marijuana is safe to smoke before driving, or how long before driving you have to wait before it becomes safe. Roadside testing is, in many ways, still in its infancy, and a study released by the University of Toronto just this month concluded, upon examining a number of international approaches to the subject, that far more work has to be done before we figure out what works best.
But we do know drug-impaired driving is a risk, and that for young people, brain development can be affected by using marijuana even up to the age of 25.
Why aren’t we already training more cops to conduct the roadside testing that can detect impairment? Why aren’t we immediately launching anti-drug-driving campaigns and embarking on massive education campaigns to warn kids smoking pot can be dangerous to your health, and delivering the message that if you smoke up, do not get behind the wheel?
Doing these things would not implicitly give legalizing marijuana the provincial stamp of approval. But they would indicate government awareness that these problems exist, whether pot ever becomes legal, and need to be addressed as soon as possible.
Mia Rabson is the Free Press parliamentary bureau chief.