Don’t ‘jump to conclusions’ on pot timing, federal public safety minister says: ‘The law remains the law’

OTTAWA — People shouldn’t “jump to conclusions” about when they’ll be able to buy marijuana legally, as a key federal bill makes its way through Parliament, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says.

There will be an implementation phase that takes a “short period of time” after passage of the bill legalizing recreational marijuana use, Goodale said Wednesday.

But he wasn’t saying whether that means people will be able to legally smoke pot as of July, as many have come to expect.

“This is a major, major change in the law. That requires a lot of reorientation in the system,” Goodale told reporters.

“And people need to do this in an orderly fashion. Until the law is changed, the law remains the law, and it must be respected. And you cannot jump to conclusions until Parliament has actually finished its work, enacted new legislation, and the royal proclamations have been made and so forth.”

Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale speaks in the Foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018.

Justin Tang/Canadian Press

The Liberals say the current system of prohibition does not stop young people from using marijuana and too many Canadians end up with criminal records for possessing small amounts of pot.

But the legislation is just one element of the plan and the federal and provincial governments are sorting out myriad questions about the availability and sale of pot, as well as allocating resources to implement the new regime.

Some provisions of the proposed Cannabis Act would come into force at royal assent, while others would take effect on a prescribed date — or possibly in phases.

A federal background document published in May 2017 said the government intended to bring the proposed legislation into force no later than July 2018.

“At that time, adults would be able to legally possess, grow and purchase cannabis with restrictions. To deter criminal activity, the government is committed to ensuring that there is a safe, legal supply of cannabis available for sale when the proposed act comes into force.”

Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said this week that provinces and territories have indicated once the federal bill receives royal assent, they’ll need another eight to 12 weeks to prepare for retail sales.

Conservative senators have expressed concerns that legalization will encourage young people to smoke pot and will increase the incidence of impaired driving.

Larry Smith, the Conservative leader in the Senate, says while the party will not block the bill, it wants to ensure Canadians with reservations about the policy move are heard.

One insider said Wednesday the government is being deliberately ambiguous about when pot will actually go on sale because officials don’t know when the Senate might pass the bill.

If it is May, then marijuana could be in retail outlets in July. If the Senate waits until the very end of the sitting, likely the end of June, sales may not begin until September.

In the House of Commons, New Democrat MP Don Davies accused the government of backing away from its July target date, “causing confusion and concern.”

With a file from Joan Bryden

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