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MP's hear exchange of ideas, concerns during public meeting

Kootenay Columbia MP Wayne Stetski (right) is joined by caucus colleague Murray Rankin, the MP for Victoria, during a cannabis legalization legislation recently held in Nelson. — Submitted photo

A variety of topics were raised during a meeting about cannabis legalization legislation held recently in Nelson.

Member of Parliament Wayne Stetski, joined by caucus colleague Murray Rankin, the MP for Victoria, hosted a public forum in Nelson to discuss the cannabis legalization legislation that will come into effect on October 17th. 

Rankin, the NDP Justice Critic and has studied the legislation in depth, began by giving an overview of Bills C45 and C46 which cover the legalization of cannabis and amends the Criminal Code to include cannabis impairment while driving motor vehicles and boats.  The scope of the new law is huge and complex and its implementation and ramifications are in many aspects still evolving. 

Uruguay is the only other country to legalize cannabis and so Canada does not have extensive examples to draw from that provide a nation-wide framework.  It is to be expected that there will be some hic-cups along the way and both Rankin and Stetski assured the audience that they are working to assist people in their ridings to navigate the new rules and to access the information needed to participate in the regulated industry. 

“I very much appreciated the personal stories shared by people at the meeting on how the new laws will impact their lives” said Stetski. “We will continue to work with, and on, the Liberal government to try to get this important initiative right.  It was clear from the meeting that there is still a lot of work to do.”

Two topics were raised the most: the detrimental impact on medical cannabis users and dispensaries under the new regulations; and, the challenge to protect public safety on the roads through use of new methods of measuring impairment and enforcing cannabis impairment with roadside saliva tests and follow up blood tests.

The use of edibles will not become legal until October 2019.  The NDP caucus fought this delay in Parliament but the Liberal government defeated their attempts to amend the legislation.  A large number of people rely on edibles for medical treatments including young children and seniors, so what are these people supposed to do?  Why topical treatments will be banned when they do not cause impairment and why medical dispensaries in Nelson have to close when recreational use stores open were some of the questions raised.

Limits for impairment related to driving have been set at two nanograms per millilitre of blood with fines and penalties increasing with impairment similar to drinking and driving legislation.  There will be many challenges to this process according to audience members and much uncertainty about how to know when you are impaired.  One person suggested that the government should spend some money to purchase testing devices to be made available so people can self-test and similarly access to free blood tests in clinics would help to gauge how long cannabis stayed in your body.  One person asked can I be charged with impaired driving if I am a medical cannabis user.  Answer: yes. 

Murray Rankin explained his concern that the government did not introduce measures to expunge criminal records for simple cannabis possession to take effect at the same time that cannabis use became legal.  He noted that as the legislation was being written, in 2016, 75% of charges in Canada were for simple possession.  Rankin will introduce his own Private Members Bill to make those charges disappear from people’s records as of October 17th. 

Reflecting on the evening Rankin said: “the interplay between the municipal, provincial and federal laws is the subject of great interest as governments and all Canadians work together to achieve an effective regulatory system for cannabis after October 17, 2018. The audience in Nelson was remarkably knowledgeable and the quality of the debate therefore very high.”