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Chris Selley: Pot legalization plan is as good as could be expected. But will it happen?

The evangelicals are not happy about the marijuana legalization framework that was finally unveiled in Ottawa on Thursday.

Pot doyenne Jody Emery declared it “utter reefer madness,” and “Prohibition 2.0.” And indeed, there is much to quibble with.

The bill allows police officers to compel breathalyzer tests of motorists without even the flimsiest pretense of suspected impairment, which is nothing but an overly intrusive way to crack down on the least dangerous class of impaired drivers. Canada will begin determining impairment from marijuana based on THC levels in the blood, which is an inexact science at best. And edibles won’t immediately be legal commercially, which seems a bit odd.

The fact is, though, this is about as good a framework as we had any right to expect from the Canadian government. The feds will insist upon a safe and controlled supply chain, with licenses and inspections; you may keep four plants at home — an indulgence I would have bet against; promotional materials will be severely restricted in much the same way as for tobacco; the minimum age will be 18; and the maximum limit on the amount of dried flower you can carry around in public will be 30 grams — same as it is in Washington state and Colorado.

Retail and all the questions that go with it are the provinces’ problem, just as they should be. (In theory, a buzz-kill province could set the legal age at 105 and the public possession limit at zero, though the government says mail order would be available in provinces that don’t have a retail sector.)

The feds will balance out all this wanton permissiveness with tough talk of putting “organized crime” out of business and protecting our children from weed. (The maximum sentence for giving marijuana to a minor is 14 years in prison!)

And now we see whether it actually happens — by summer 2018, or at all.

The news Thursday was full of worries and concerns and potential reasons why it might not. They range from legitimate-but-surmountable to downright silly.

Yes, the science of THC impairment behind the wheel is inexact. So I guess pot-consuming car-drivers had better take that under advisement. THC-impaired driving is already illegal, after all.

There is the bewilderingly persistent supposed issue of Canada’s obligation to prohibit drugs under UN conventions on narcotic and psychotropic substances. This week, the University of Ottawa’s Global Strategy Lab released a 27-page paper explaining “how Canada can remain party to the conventions without either withdrawing … or amending them.” It’s all very interesting, but why not just withdraw from the damn things?

There are concerns about certain cities turning into latter-day Sodoms. Windsor Mayer Drew Dilkens recently visited Denver and “found himself in the midst of intimidating throngs of lowlifes,” Gord Henderson reported in the Windsor Star.

“The riff-raff and the undesirables were rampant,” said Dilkens. “I was looking behind my back as I was walking because some of these people truly concerned me. These were very aggressive people.”

For reasons both dubious and unexplained, he blamed this on Colorado’s legal marijuana. Henderson and Dilkens worry Windsor could be overrun with weed-seeking Michiganders. This strikes me rather more as an opportunity than a risk, but if they don’t want pot shops downtown, surely that’s what zoning laws are for.

The Globe and Mail reported the government is “concerned about the U.S. reaction to the legalization of cannabis in Canada,” and intends to “negotiate” with Washington as to “how Canadian citizens will be treated at the border if they admit to consuming (marijuana).”

That’s the easiest question to answer: Canadians will be treated however the individual border guard decides they ought to be treated, and those turned back will have no recourse whatsoever. Same as it ever was. Conduct yourselves accordingly. If my wagon were hitched to Windsor’s economy, I would be most concerned about the potential for massive U.S.-bound delays at the border.

Frankly, I’m amazed the Liberals have come even this far at a time when they’re walking on eggshells around the Trump administration. To the extent it has articulated a pot policy, it has been the opposite of the relatively laissez-faire approach the Obama administration took toward states that decided to legalize. Attorney-General Jeff Sessions talks about marijuana the way General Ripper in Dr. Strangelove talks about communists.

That will make legalization all the more impressive an achievement if the Liberals pull it off — and all the more damaging a self-inflicted wound if they don’t.

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