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Legalized Marijuana: How Best To Protect Those Still Developing Young Brains?  Premier Kathleen Wynne says the LCBO is a good vehicle for selling marijuana once the Trudeau government legalizes it.  Everyone agrees keeping it out of the hands of youth, whose brains are still developing and vulnerable to damage from the drug, is very important.  But have we really done the research on how to do that and are we sure of the LCBO's capability to stop marijuana from reaching our vulnerable young? After all, generations of teens have grown up drinking alcohol purchased illegally from the LCBO by older brothers, sisters and friends. Richard Mahoney, John Capobianco and Marit Stiles debate.

Marit Stiles:

Well, the law hasn't even changed yet and already our Premier is out there, talking about distribution. First, I don't disagree that the LCBO might be a good means for distribution. I like the LCBO - professional staff, knowledgeable and committed to enforcing the law. It certainly seems like a responsible approach.

On the other hand, there are many questions that will need to be answered. First of all, what are the timelines?  The federal government has still not dealt with these. Second, what are the implications for the medical marijuana shops that have popped-up?

I would hope for a more responsible and clear communication and consultation around how marijuana will be distributed in this province than the mess we saw around the Liberals’ new changes to vaping legislation. With new research showing increasing concerns about the impact of marijuana on developing brains, we need to be sure distribution is combined with new approaches to education and information for our young people that reflect the new reality - both in terms of legalization and health information.


Richard Mahoney:

Much was made of this promise by many in the election campaign.

The Conservatives claimed that marijuana would be available at corner stores, and that every neighbourhood would have to have its own brothel. They claimed the Liberal commitment to working with the provinces and territories to "create a federal-provincial-territorial process that will lead to the legalization and regulation of marijuana" would make it easier for Canadian teenagers to access marijuana.

But most know that the opposite of that is true. Most parents, and certainly most law enforcement officials, know that the status quo is the biggest problem. Marijuana is widely distributed to Canadians, including and especially Canadian teenagers and children, by organized crime, thus funnelling billions of dollars into the pockets of criminals. As it turns out, organized crime also does not check I.D. and effectively provide 24-7 access, without regulation, oversight or enforcement.

It really is a re-creation of what happened when alcohol was prohibited but still widely used - a larger social problem developed. It is for that reason that it makes sense to control the situation - just as we did with alcohol almost a century ago. Laws, regulation and enforcement by a competent regulatory authority are what this will hopefully look like in the end.

It is in the context of this debate that comments made by several provincial premiers on how this might get distributed, taxed and regulated should be seen. It is a sensible debate on a sensible reform, which will need serious attention and federal provincial cooperation so that we can find the best way to fix this problem.


John Capobianco:

This is a conflicting issue for many people and I have to believe that, despite the election of Mr. Trudeau and the clear fact this was part of the Liberal platform, many Canadians did not support this particular policy. I do, however, believe that many Canadians have come around - as I have - on the issue of medical marijuana usage, but I'm not sure about the full out legalization of marijuana.

To the PM's credit, he did voice his support for the legalization of marijuana very early in his role as Liberal leader and had it put in the election platform, but it certainly didn't get the attention it deserved or the debate it required.

That said, the Mr. Trudeau won and has even put this policy predominately in the Speech from the Throne - even the very first one! In the Throne Speech, he stated that marijuana will be "legalized, regulated and restricted".

Here is the kicker - what exactly does "restricted" mean? Are we confident in the government’s ability to regulate or the methods they will use? This is why I agree with Marit in that the jury is still out on this and it needs to be discussed thoroughly before we start jumping on OPSEU President Smokey Thomas' LCBO wagon.


Marit Stiles:

John, I don't want to be jumping on any bandwagon, that’s for sure. But as I said at the start, I have great confidence in the LCBO and it may make the most sense. I certainly appreciate the efforts of the workers there. LCBO employees refused service to more than 400,000 people last year, the majority for reasons of age. That's pretty significant.

The point is, we need to look at all angles and know more about what the feds are actually planning and when it will all come into effect. I did find it very interesting that the Premier would float this idea just weeks after her own Minister of Finance said it was “too soon” to talk about how marijuana would be distributedWhat's changed?

The cynic in me would point to the fact that as of this week, beer is being sold in supermarkets. This is not something that made Ontario's public sector union, OPSEU, very happy. OPSEU represents LCBO workers. And there you have it.

That doesn't mean that the LCBO might not be the right place to sell legalized marijuana, but the regulation and legalization of marijuana is new territory. You can compare it to the history of alcohol sales, but it's a new world, a different product. Again, we need more information and the Premier should be seeking that information before she starts making policy on the fly.


Richard Mahoney:

Marit asks a lot of good questions about timing, and public consultations. These are all questions that will be answered as consultations take place both with other levels of government and public consultations. All we really know now is that the commitment is there. It was followed up in the transparent and public mandate letter, wherein Prime Minister Trudeau instructed Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould this way:

"Working with the Ministers of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and Health, create a federal-provincial-territorial process that will lead to the legalization and regulation of marijuana."

I expect this to be a very deliberative process, involving stakeholders, particularly police, communities and provincial governments. It likely makes sense as Premier Wynne and other premiers have suggested that the best way to ensure control is through the expertise of the LCBO. It would be difficult to create a totally new regime that would be better suited. But that will all be determined by the debate, discussion and consultations.

The NDP Premier of Manitoba voiced the same view for his province. The federal Minister of Justice is brand new, and has many things on her plate. This is a big change but it is a significant one. I think governments will take the time to get it right.

John Capobianco:

In fact, I have become a huge supporter of the LCBO and how they have over the years turned things around for the better - and it may very well be the right place to dispense marijuana, we just don't know. I support the need for consultations and discussions on this issue - now.

There are some very smart folks out there who have been working on this from the medicinal angle and now are turning their attention to how best marijuana can be distributed more broadly. So I am encouraged to hear that consultations will be happening but I would encourage the PM (and the Premier of Ontario) to set expectations and a framework around how this will look and the timing, so we don't go down the road of wild speculations like we saw during the beer-in-corner-stores debate over the years.

I am coming to the realization, I guess like most Canadians, that we will be seeing marijuana being smoked in the open in front of us, possibly even in the car beside us when we pull up to stop signs. Who knows, but let’s get this right and let’s make sure the consultations bring in the right experts.

Posted date : December 16, 2015 NEWSROOM
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