LETHBRIDGE- As members of parliament get ready to return to Ottawa for the beginning of the new year, one of the biggest issues that is sure to dominate the headlines is the legalization of marijuana.
Canada is on track to have recreational marijuana legalized by July 2018, which would make Canada only the second country in the world after Uruguay to do so.
The legislation put forward by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the federal government will regulate the production of cannabis, but the details like where it can be sold and who can buy it will be left mostly to the provinces.
Lethbridge MP Rachael Harder says one of the biggest objections the Conservatives have with the legislation is the imposed date for legalization.
"The government came in and said they wanted to legalize marijuana by July 1st, 2018, and of course there was no reason for that deadline, it was just arbitrary. Now we have a piece of legislation that has been passed through the house, and it will likely come into effect by the Liberals targeted deadline," Harder said.
She's also heard concerns from municipalities and Chiefs of Police from across the country about the time frame.
"They're saying look, we don't have the money or the time that we need to be able to deal with this. To put bylaws and policies in place so they will be adequately prepared. Police don't have the money to invest in the proper training, and they certainly don't have the time either," she stated.
Some of the chiefs have also said they're going to be 6-12 months behind schedule after the legislation comes into effect.
"During the committee stage, they warned the government by saying if that time line is kept not only will they be behind, but they're worried during that window there would be an opportunity for criminals on the black market to flourish," Harder continued. "I would've expected the government to take that into consideration and heed the advice of chiefs of police from across the country."
Another issue Harder has heard concerns about is impaired driving.
"Right now, police don't have an adequate way to test if drivers are high or not, and that's certainly raising alarm bells for some people."
Harder was asked whether the government has shown a willingness to listen to amendments brought forward by opposition parties about funding for police training, lowering the price of marijuana to root out the black market, and the time line.
She says that to this point, not exactly.
"One of the things the Prime Minister has promised from the beginning, one of his talking points, is that the legalization of marijuana will somehow take it out of the hands of young people. That it will clean up our streets and take it out of organized crime rings," Harder said.
"Well, evidence actually shows the contrary. Instead, this legislation allows for four marijuana plants in any residential home. That puts it directly in the hands of young people. In addition to that, the legislation allows those between the ages of 11 and 17 to have up to five grams on them without any repercussions," Harder continued, adding that again facilitates marijuana being in the hands of young people.
Despite those worries, Statistics Canada released a study recently that showed more older Canadians, including senior citizens, are using marijuana while fewer minors consume the substance.
The report shows nearly five million Canadians used pot in 2015, a trend that has grown over time marking a shift in demographic away from a market that was once driven by younger people.
Less than six per cent of consumers were in the 15-17 age group, compared to two-thirds of consumers who were 25 years old or older in 2015.
Still, Harder sees some problems with the talking points of the government not lining up with the actual substance of the legislation.
"I think we have to consider issues raised by both municipalities and the chiefs of police around the time frame, and the fact they've asked the government to slow this down. Many amendments were put forward by the Conservatives, and they were ignored. That's unfortunate because those amendments would've strengthened the legislation and help take a stand for public safety," Harder said.
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