Opposition takes government to task for 'rushed' cannabis groundwork

Progressive Conservatives say the government of Brian Gallant is rushing preparations for the legalization of marijuana, and even the summer-long consultations with the public were inadequate.

Progressive Conservatives criticize Crown corporation model for drug sales, province's relationship with feds

The Progressive Conservatives released their response to a New Brunswick select committee report on cannabis. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Progressive Conservatives say the government of Brian Gallant is rushing preparations for the legalization of marijuana, and even the summer-long consultations with the public were inadequate.

The party released its response Thursday to the recent cannabis report by a select legislature committee that went on a provincewide tour to hear from individuals and organizations.

Three Progressive Conservatives were on the committee, but they and others in the PC caucus said the process was not informative.

"The Official Opposition finished the consultations with more questions and concerns than answers about how the Gallant government plans to introduce this legislative change," read the report.

The PCs took the government to task for how it has interacted with the federal government, which decided marijuana would be legalized.

Provinces are trying to decide certain regulatory issues, such as the minimum legal age for using cannabis, where the drug will be sold, and how the regulations, including those about impairment, will be enforced.

"The New Brunswick government did not represent the interests of New Brunswickers in demanding a rational approach to legalization on the part of the federal government," the PC report says.

"Instead, as too often is the case, the provincial government will bear the costs and risks of legalization while the federal government gains political credit."

Crown vs. private retailers

One area in particular was singled out for criticism. The PC report says the province invited NB Liquor, a Crown corporation, to discuss the sale of marijuana, but excluded private retailers.

"A private retail model was excluded from the outset," the report said.

The select committee didn't make recommendations to government but instead reported on how the public felt about proposals made earlier by a provincial working group.

The committee said the majority of people it heard from preferred the Crown corporation model for cannabis sales, which was also favoured by the working group.

But the PCs said a Crown corporation model "will restrict supply, artificially inflate prices that will support a continued black market, and exclude craft growers.

"The Official Opposition believes the government's role in cannabis legalization should be focused on education and public safety, not retail sales."

Legal age

While the Progressive Conservatives did not express a specific view about a legal age for marijuana use, they have hinted they don't agree with the presumed legal age of 19, the age favoured by presenters to the select committee, according to its report.

The Opposition called for the government to fund research on the effects of marijuana on young people up to 25 years old.

"Decisions on the legal age when marijuana may be consumed, and parallel education campaigns, should be adjusted based on this research," the PC report said.

Ross Wetmore, the MLA for Gagetown-Petitcodiac and a member of the select committee, suggested that whatever the legal age, it might have to change down the road, depending on the lessons of legalization. The minimum age for buying alcohol has changed over the years, he said.

"As time goes on, and as [marijuana] becomes more normalized, we're going to see what the effects are of cannabis on a person's brain," said Wetmore, who doesn't support the move to legal pot.

"I'm not comfortable with legalizing marijuana as it is," he said.

Training, education needed says Opposition

Other recommendations from the Opposition party include more funding to police for training and drug recognition evaluators, the development of an education program, and a request that the federal government "develop Occupational Health and Safety Standards and other policies that encompass legal cannabis."

Marijuana is expected to be legalized by July 2018.

"The impact on municipalities, on law enforcement, and the lack of clarity on issues including
home cultivation and edible marijuana products, make it appear this process is being rushed," the report said.

With files from Catherine Harrop