Province solicits public feedback on pot legalization

Marijuana. Pixabay

Saskatchewan residents can now share their thoughts on who should be able to buy, sell and grow marijuana, with just a few clicks on a government survey.

Ottawa plans to legalize marijuana by July of 2018, but is leaving it up to the provinces to design their own regulatory system. The provincial government launched an online survey Friday to solicit public feedback. It’s open to any Saskatchewan resident over the age of 18, and is set to run until October 6.

“The legalization of cannabis represents a big change,” Justice Minister and Attorney General Don Morgan was quoted as saying in a press release.

“We want to take the time to listen to and consult with the people of this province to ensure we implement the parts of this legislation that are under our control in a way that works for Saskatchewan.”

Residents can remain anonymous as they answer 26 questions about marijuana regulation. They can choose whether cannabis should be sold online or in retail stores, and whether those stores should be government-run, corporate-run or small businesses.

The survey gives three selections for the minimum age of consumption, 18, 19 and 21, though respondents can key in a higher number if they wish. They can also weigh in on where people should be able to grow marijuana plants and how much cannabis they should be permitted to buy at once. There are also questions on whether municipalities should be able to pass stricter regulations to control marijuana sales and how drug-impaired driving laws should compare to drunk driving penalties.

The questionnaire came online on the very day that Ontario announced a marijuana framework that many are calling draconian. Under the Ontario plan, all private dispensaries will be shut down and smoking pot will be forbidden in all public areas.

In a press conference Friday, Morgan said that the government will pay attention to what other provinces roll out and that he favours “consistency” across the country. But he said they aren’t sure whether Ontario’s “government model” is best for Saskatchewan.

“We haven’t made any decision as to whether that would be something that would be a strong contender for consideration here,” he said. “I suspect we would be looking at other options.”

If Saskatchewan goes for a private model, he suggested, dispensaries operating illegally would be able to legalize their operations. He said that the government has not yet made a decision on whether cannabis will be available in liquor stores. Taxation will likely be “similar” to what’s in place for alcohol and tobacco. 

On impaired driving, he said that new drivers would likely face a “zero” limit, while experienced drivers would be permitted to have a small amount in their system – so long as they aren’t impaired.

Morgan explained that the province has four priorities for its system: restricting the illegal market, keeping pot away from children and youth, protecting health and promoting safety on roadways, workplaces and public spaces. The survey allows respondents to rank those concerns.

Saskatchewan has asked the feds for a one-year extension while it considers its options, Morgan explained. But he stressed that, whatever happens, the province wants to have a regulatory framework ready by deadline.

“We have to have something in place by then,” he said. “We don’t want to be in a place where the federal government legislation is in place and our protective scheme or our regulatory scheme is not there.”

Morgan said that the province will likely roll out a discussion paper, with an initial position, after considering the concerns residents raise in the survey. He said legislation probably won’t be passed until the spring session, when a new premier has taken office. But bureaucrats are already hard at work getting things ready.

“I think we’ve got really good people working within the ministries giving us advice,” he said.

The survey can be accessed at: http://www.saskatchewan.ca/government/news-and-media/2017/september/08/cannabis-survey 

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