A committee of the New Brunswick legislature studying marijuana legalization wrapped up a week of public hearings Friday with lots of unanswered questions and little consensus.
Committee chairman Benoit Bourque said presenters were split on whether the minimum age should be 19 or 21, and whether cannabis should be sold at government-run stores or by the private sector.
There are also no clear answers on how to deal with enforcement for impaired drivers or employees on the job, he said.
“I consider it normal that we still have unanswered questions. All of these questions will be submitted to government and will be very seriously considered to see how we can best answer and tackle these questions,” Bourque said.
All 10 provinces are trying to be ready with regulations by July 2018, when the federal government plans to legalize recreational marijuana possession and use.
While the New Brunswick Medical Society said Friday it would like to see the minimum age for marijuana use set at 25, it’s willing to settle for 21.
When asked why not have it at 19 – consistent with smoking and alcohol – society president, Dr. Lynn Murphy-Kaulbeck, said it might make sense to make 21 the common age for all three.
“I think we’re all very well aware of the health detriments and consequences that come with smoking, there’s no question to that,” she told the committee. “I think there is a strong argument probably to move alcohol to 21 as well.”
But others, like the New Brunswick Association of Social Workers, say 19 is the appropriate age for marijuana use.
Miguel LeBlanc, the association’s executive director, said younger people are already using it.
“If youth go in the black market on the streets to get cannabis you don’t know what you’re smoking. It could actually be more harmful. We’re saying that it should be 19,” he said.
Emily Leaman, of the Public Health Association of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, agreed 19 should be the legal age. She said strict regulations are needed if weed is to be sold in stores.
“We recommend they not be co-located with pharmacies or in locations that currently sell alcohol or tobacco, and that they not be located near where children and minors may be,” Leaman told the committee.
Moe Sihota, a consultant for cannabis producer Zenabis LP, said his company would like to see medical marijuana sold through pharmacies, with recreational cannabis sold by the private sector.
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Last month, a working group appointed by the provincial government presented a report recommending sales be handled by something similar to a Crown corporation.
Laurie Manzer, a veteran who uses medicinal marijuana, said he would not want to see cannabis distributed through government-run liquor stores.
“I know a lot of my friends do have addiction problems with alcohol and other drugs and are using a cannabis therapy to quell that addiction. It’s not good for these people to go into a liquor store and have to purchase their medicine,” he said.
Manzer stressed medical and recreational marijuana should be regulated separately.
“If a 12-year-old dying of cancer requires cannabis by a doctor’s recommendation, we don’t want something to happen like this – a recreational law applied inherently setting usage at 18 years old regardless of medical need,” he said.
Manzer also said he’s worried the demand for recreational cannabis could limit the supply for medicinal users.
Sihota acknowledged that could be an issue, but said he believes the federal government will ensure medicinal needs are met.
Tim Petersen, president of WorkSafeNB, said on-the-job impairment is going to be a difficult issue. He said employers have a responsibility to provide a safe work environment, and employees have a responsibility to say if they are impaired and can’t do the job.
He said there are many unanswered questions about how to test for impairment.
“All the people who are working on this have found that trying to figure out levels of impairment through testing is quite challenging. That may be the biggest challenge that we may face,” he said.
Meanwhile Fredericton city officials told the committee they were concerned municipalities will be stuck with the bill for the detection of impaired drivers.
The committee won’t be making any recommendations, but will summarize all the presentations in a report for the provincial government by Sept. 1.