The Official Opposition expressed incredulity in the P.E.I. legislature Friday, saying the province should be better prepared for the legalization of marijuana.
Members of the Opposition also argued the province shouldn't be developing its plans on the basis of an online survey, but rather should have held formal, public consultations with Islanders.
- P.E.I. sets legal age for pot at 19, to be sold in government-owned stores and online
- Province elaborates on provincial plans for pot regulation
On Thursday, P.E.I.'s Finance Minister Allen Roach revealed an outline of the province's plans to regulate marijuana once it becomes legal across the country in July 2018.
'Why, for such a big shift in public policy, did we decide to do an online survey for a month about something like this?' — Sidney MacEwen
Marijuana will be sold from government-run stores, separate from liquor stores, will be restricted to those 19 and older and may only be used in private residences — at least for now.
But there are no answers so far to many questions, including how many stores the province will run, how much the product will cost or how many pot plants Islanders will be allowed to grow at home.
'How is that even possible?': MacEwen
"This was a federal election promise years ago, so yes, this government has had time, and if they weren't planning, they certainly should have been planning for this," PC MLA Sidney MacEwen said Friday during question period.
He also took issue with the method used by government to solicit input on the subject of marijuana legalization.
"Why, for such a big shift in public policy, did we decide to do an online survey for a month about something like this?" he asked.
"This government decided to not have any public consultation. The minister hasn't even met with anybody about cannabis. How could you not meet with anybody and then go ahead and put this plan in place? How is that even possible?"
'Apparently, it is possible': Roach
"Apparently, it is possible," came the response from Roach.
"I've met with lots of people and I've talked to lawyers. I've talked to fishermen. I've talked to farmers. I've heard a lot of concerns about this and the number one concern was that this is legislation that's put down by the federal government and we have to respond to it."
Roach also noted government's online survey drew more than 3,000 responses.
"We felt that the most appropriate tool out there … was to do an online survey. That way, our residents feel freer and there's anonymity there. They don't feel any pressure. They're not in any kind of a public setting. They can say what they wish."
Noting that government is set to re-table legislation to create a lobbyist registry this fall after tabling a bill a year ago without passing it, MacEwen asked for a list of all private meetings with government on the subject of marijuana.
There was no commitment, however government did table its new lobbyist registry bill following question period.
'This is not going to be a profit-making venture'
P.E.I. is the only province in Canada that does not keep a public registry of meetings between lobbyists and government officials.
PC MLA Darlene Compton pressed Roach on how much money government will make from the sale of marijuana.
"This is not going to be a profit-making venture," was the response from Roach. "I would see some years down the road before we can even get to the level playing field."
While it may take time for the P.E.I. Liquor Commission to turn a profit from its new marijuana sales operation, the P.E.I. government will be able to earn tax revenue from sales.
Provincial taxes on alcohol and cigarettes are expected to take in $19.5 million and $33 million this year, respectively.
Roach will meet with his federal and provincial counterparts in Ottawa Monday, where one of the topics of discussion will be how to split marijuana tax revenues between the federal government and the provinces.
With regards to other outstanding questions as to how P.E.I. will deal with legal marijuana, the province has said many details will be filled in when government introduces legislation in the spring sitting of the legislature.
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