Cannabis ‘Backup Plan’ In The Works If Provinces Unable To Regulate By Deadline, Morneau Says

Article by Bill Curry, The Globe and Mail

Cannabis ‘backup plan’ in the works if provinces unable to regulate by deadline, Morneau says. Minister of Finance Bill Morneau speaks with the media following meetings with his provincial counterparts in Ottawa on Monday.

The federal government is preparing a backup plan that would see it regulate the distribution and taxation of legal marijuana in provinces that are not ready in time for Ottawa’s July, 2018, deadline.

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau outlined the plan Monday following a two-day meeting with his provincial and territorial counterparts. Some provinces are expressing concern with the federal government’s deadline for legalization, given that important details, such as how the products will be taxed, have yet to be worked out.

Speaking with reporters, Mr. Morneau said a backup plan will be in place that would see Ottawa regulate a legal cannabis market based on mail delivery in provinces that have not yet established a regime to regulate sales at the retail level.

“We accept that there’s much more work to be done, but we’ve started down that path and we are going to work to get to a conclusion by July, 2018,” he said. “We believe that it’s entirely possible. And as a backstop, the federal government will be able to assure the provinces that we’ll be able to – for instance, be the taxation regime – if they’re not able to get there in time. We’ll be able to be the backstop in terms of how we actually distribute marijuana if they’re not able to get there on time. So we have an agenda. We have a timeline and we have a backup plan.”

With one year to go before the federal Liberals plan to deliver on a campaign promise to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, many questions remain as to how the products will be taxed and controlled. Mr. Morneau said finance ministers reached agreement on general principles, such as keeping taxes low to squeeze out the black market. Officials will work on further details over the coming months, with the goal of having a more detailed plan in place by December, when finance ministers will meet again.

The federal deadline has clearly emerged as a point of contention with some provinces.

“It seems rushed,” Manitoba Finance Minister Cameron Friesen told CBC News following the meeting.

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