The federal government is planning on tabling legislation in the spring to legalize marijuana in Canada. It can take a long time for the bill to be studied and to be passed into law, but Edmonton is already planning for the eventual legalization.
As the Chair of the REACH Edmonton Cannabis Coalition, the legalization of marijuana and the impacts of legalization have been on my radar for a while. After the Colorado experience, there are things that need to be addressed and prepared for before legalization comes into effect. REACH has been in discussion about the legislation for over a year now, giving input on the potential impacts of legalization and areas that need to be addressed by the federal government because of marijuana’s legalization.
Some major concerns regarding the legalization are workplace health and safety, and the issues that can arise in regards to both employer’s rights and employee rights. There are concerns about testing impairment, and about locations and access to the drug. There are also concerns about impaired driving, which the federal government has said they will be amending so the penalties for impaired driving are stiffer. There are also concerns about the costs of regulation and enforcement. At the moment, there is no reliable test to determine THC and impairment levels, which are safety concerns and concerns for enforcement officers.
At this point we are unsure about some of the practical realities of legalization will look like, including what kinds of supports will be available to municipalities who will have to deal with the regulating and enforcing of this federal policy. But we do know that the federal government has the ambitious goal of legalization by July 1, 2018. We are concerned about how we as a city can be ready to regulate and manage this issue. Without the support of the federal government on many different fronts and without funding from the Federal government the City will not be ready to deal with the demands of regulation and enforcement. This is something that we have been trying to impress on the federal government as they prepare for this change.
City council is already preparing for the possible impacts of marijuana legalization. We want to be pro-active in our approach, instead of reacting when legalization is official. We need to look at other jurisdictions that have gone through the process of legalizing marijuana, and then use the lessons learned from their experience as a model for what worked well and what did not. We are looking at zoning bylaws for dispensaries, primarily zoning so that the dispensaries are not in close proximity to schools. We also are going to be looking at regulation and enforcement policies and costs.
The provincial government has also begun preparing for the passing of this legislation. Unfortunately, as Premier Notley has pointed out, legalizing marijuana is not the “cash cow” that many believe it to be. There are significant costs that come with this sort of change. Looking at the experiences of places that have already legalized marijuana, such as Colorado, Alberta has been weighing the pros and cons of the change and is planning on having extensive consultations regarding the issue in order to hopefully mitigate the cons.
One thing learned from the Colorado experience is that it is better to over-regulate in the beginning and then adjust to the realities by removing or amending regulations rather than adding regulations. It is easier to remove regulations than it is to add more on after it is already legal and in circulation.
Needless to say, there are still many things that need to be addressed in the year or so before legalization takes place. We are still hoping for increased support and funding from the federal government in order to deal with the changes coming.
You can find the federal government’s marijuana task force report here.