Dawson: Ontario Forging Ahead On Marijuana With Police Ready Or Not

Article by Tyler Dawson, Ottawa Citizen

Dawson: Ontario forging ahead on marijuana with police ready or not "The federal government is fairly committed to the July 1 timeline. They feel that they’ve provided sufficient time to everyone to get prepared," Naqvi said by phone from Vancouver on Friday. "Ontario is leading the pack at the moment."Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi, centre, Minister of Finance Charles Sousa, left, and Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Eric Hoskins speak during a press conference where they detailed Ontario's solution for recreational marijuana sales, in Toronto on Friday, September 8, 2017.

While police in Ontario and Canada are worried they will not be prepared in time for marijuana legalization, Attorney General Yasir Naqvi says the provincial government is forging ahead, aiming to be ready for the federal Liberals’ July 1 legalization date, and he expects police will manage to enforce the law once it passes.

“The federal government is fairly committed to the July 1 timeline. They feel that they’ve provided sufficient time to everyone to get prepared,” Naqvi said by phone from Vancouver on Friday. “Ontario is leading the pack at the moment.”

That said, Naqvi conceded he would “keep the options open” if, at a later date, the Ontario government needed to go to the federal government and say, whoa, y’all need to slow this down. But, he reiterated repeatedly, following a media conference after a meeting of provincial and territorial justice ministers and federal counterpart Jody Wilson-Raybould, how committed the Ontario Liberals were to hitting the deadline.

It’s true that Ontario has got a decent amount done on the file, being the first province, on Sept. 8, to present how it plans to sell pot from LCBO-style establishments. Still, it hasn’t released its tax scheme and the plans to shut down the dozens of illegal dispensaries around Ontario haven’t been particularly well explained or justified.

What Naqvi said about Ontario simply having to get ready in time – which basically suggests that’s the case whether everyone likes it or not – revealed the crux of the issue of pot legalization: Justin Trudeau’s government did not provide a whole lot of guidance, downloading many of the decisions, such as point of sale and age of purchase, onto provincial governments. Some questions, it seems, just haven’t been considered: home-grown pot plants can only be 100 centimetres tall, but there’s no width set, as the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has noted. Yet it’s going to be up to police officers and pot retailers to handle whatever comes from politicians and quite simply make the best of it.

The problem with this approach (not that it’s unique in Canada, where provinces shoulder a whole lot of the burden of running a country) is that governments, at some point, are going to run out of people upon which to offload responsibility. The lack of guidance leaves those who are going to be handling this brave new world day-to-day in an awkward position. If something goes wrong, it’s going to be someone’s fault.

The only question is who.

Last week, the House of Commons health committee heard from witnesses on the marijuana bill, among them, police, who were extremely blunt in their assessment of the circumstances. “Canadian police services will not be equipped to provide officers with the training and resources necessary to enforce the new regime within the existing contemplated timeframe,” said a brief from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.

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