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Chris Selley: Legalization or no legalization, it’s time to get serious about marijuana

The end of marijuana prohibition is nigh. No, really! The committee has issued its findings. The Liberal caucus has reportedly been briefed, and the attending deliverologist has signed off.

“The Liberal government will announce legislation next month that will legalize marijuana in Canada by July 1, 2018,” CBC reported Sunday. In brief: the feds will license producers and control product safety, set a minimum legal age of 18, and throw the rest in the provinces’ laps to figure out.

So, they’re going to table a bill — like Jean Chrétien’s Liberals did on decriminalization, and then Paul Martin’s Liberals, and here we are in 2017 laying 60,000 criminal charges a year for possession.

But if they’re giving it a splashy deadline, maybe they really think they can get this done. Surely a government that’s beginning to labour under the weight of its business-as-usual behaviour wouldn’t go out of its way to raise expectations on another Big Change file — like, say, the expectation of celebrating the 151st Canada Day in a legally altered state.

Mind you, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau doubled down on electoral reform any number of times and that was never, ever going to happen. With the Trudeau team quite rightly trying to stay on President Donald Trump’s good side and an Attorney-General in Washington, Jeff Sessions, whose message on pot is that “using drugs will destroy your life,” this would certainly be an odd time to finally get it done. And, hmm, “finishing the job” might look good in the 2019 Liberal platform.

Marijuana stocks on fire after report that Canada’s legalization bill is in the works for 2018

Publicly traded medical marijuana companies got a bounce Monday after news reports provided clarity on the federal government’s plan for marijuana, suggesting it will be legal for pot smokers in time to celebrate Canada Day next year.

Ottawa plans to introduce marijuana legalization legislation in mid-April, fulfilling the Liberals’ promise to do so this spring. That will be enough time to enact legalization by Canada Day 2018, CBC reported Sunday night.

The media report is largely in line with analysts’ expectations, but “we nonetheless believe that it provides investors with a greater degree of clarity and certainty of what the recreational market could look like,” Canaccord Genuity analyst Neil Maruoka said in a report called “Legislation should be the tide to lift all stocks.”

“It’s introduction into the House of Commons should be viewed as a significant positive industry catalyst.”

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In any event, the legislation will have the benefit of forcing the provinces finally to come to grips with their policy preferences.

Quebec politicians, in particular, continue to strike a remarkably skeptical tone. A year ago, Finance Minister Carlos Leitao said he had “no intention of commercializing (marijuana).” On Monday, Premier Philippe Couillard warned of the burdens legalization might impose on his province: “regulation, implementation, how we’re going to test people.”

At Queen’s Park, Ontario Attorney-General Yasir Naqvi said the government is conducting “very detailed analysis of all policy options,” and that all options for retail models and age limits were “on the table.” Premier Kathleen Wynne has said she thinks selling pot at the provincial liquor stores made sense, but public health advocates disagree — and the federal committee studying legalization recommended against it.

Manitoba has been out in front of the issue by comparison. Last week the province introduced legislation covering where you can’t smoke marijuana (in public, in a car) and what police can do if they suspect you’re driving under the influence.

The others will soon have to follow suit. And they should be considering what to do if legalization doesn’t happen, as well. Tabling the legislation and any associated boosterism is only going to energize the open black market that has flourished in Canadian cities’ storefronts under the polite fiction of “dispensaries,” making a hollow mockery of the law.

The cries of injustice when police bust these businesses have been silly. Policing marijuana isn’t a great use of resources at any time, if you ask me, but a Liberal campaign promise isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on; it’s certainly not a legal defence. If you’re a “budtender” working for minimum wage in a “dispensary,” now would be a good time to realize that, under the law, you’re a minimum wage drug dealer.

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