Only a Crown corporation should sell marijuana when it becomes legal, and customers should be at least 19, says a working group helping the province prepare for the legalization of recreational marijuana in Canada.
An interim report from the group was released Wednesday and recommends:
- A legal age of 19 for possession and consumption of cannabis.
- A personal possession limit of 30 grams.
- Harm and risk reduction strategies.
- A Crown corporation to regulate and sell cannabis.
In an interview Wednesday, Health Minister Victor Boudreau said the regulation of marijuana could be overseen by NB Liquor or by another Crown corporation altogether.
"There have been very strong arguments made that they should certainly be different points of sale," he said. "It wouldn't be within liquor stores … even if it was managed by NB Liquor, it would be a different storefront."
The province hasn't made any final decisions on the working group's interim recommendations, but Boudreau said it's important that marijuana sales be regulated.
"Striking the right balance of ensuring protections for the well-being of families and children, and addressing health and public safety concerns, is an essential element of the discussion regarding cannabis legalization," he said.
"We look forward to hearing from New Brunswickers through the consultation process beginning this summer."
A select legislative committee on cannabis will hold public meetings this summer and will use the working group's interim report to frame the discussions. The committee will hold its first meeting Wednesday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said pot will be legal by July 1, 2018.
"We're dealing with a decision that was made by a different level of government," said Boudreau.
"The federal government has decided they want to legalize cannabis in the country, and we agree with that premise in the sense that this is all about taking these drugs out of the hands of our youth and taking proceeds out of the hands of criminals."
The working group is made up of senior bureaucrats from the departments of Justice and Public Safety, Health and Finance, as well as the New Brunswick Liquor Corp. and Opportunities New Brunswick.
A final report will be released in September, and the provincial government will use it when developing its policy on recreational cannabis in the fall.
"This is a big deal," said Boudreau. "This is something that is fairly new and we want to make sure that we get it right."
Medical Society disappointed
The New Brunswick Medical Society said it is pleased with the group's recommendations, particularly for a Crown corporation model to regulate and sell marijuana, which the society also favoured.
But the group is disappointed with the proposed minimum age of 19 for buying or using marijuana, rather than 21, said Dr. Lynn Murphy-Kaulbeck.
She said doctors have mental health and other concerns about the use of marijuana by young adults.
"From a medical perspective we felt it shouldn't be sold to anyone under the age of 25 but knew that was unlikely to be agreed upon," she said.
"Marijuana is a harmful substance."
Out in the community, feelings vary about what will happen in New Brunswick when the drug is legal.
Nathan Hoyt, who teaches middle school language arts and social studies in Harvey, said he is opposed to legalization.
'If it's going to be done it should be done the right way.' - Lisa Griffin
"It concerns me what might be coming down the line in the future," said Hoyt, whose children are three and one.
Joey Landine, 20, said the government might think it is doing good by considering the regulations, but he doesn't feel people know about the behind-the-scenes business.
"Similar to alcohol, people are going to abuse that law regardless," he said "I can't imagine it's going to stop private sales at all."
Lisa Griffin said decisions about where marijuana is sold and the minimum age are up to government, but they should be made with caution.
"If it's going to be done it should be done the right way," she said. "People's health should be taken into consideration."