Bill Blair gets mayor's support, but not everyone agrees on pot legalization plan

Mayor John Tory says former Toronto police chief Bill Blair is the "ideal person" to oversee the Liberal government's plan to legalize marijuana.

Toronto mayor supports city's former top cop heading up marijuana plan

Mayor John Tory says legalizing marijuana is a "complicated matter" but Blair is the "ideal person to take a look at that." (CBC)

Mayor John Tory says former Toronto police chief Bill Blair is the "ideal person" to oversee the Liberal government's plan to legalize marijuana. But despite his involvement, the plan still has strong opposition from Blair's former law enforcement colleagues.

Tory's comments on Friday come after sources told CBC News that Blair, who was elected as the MP for Scarborough Southwest in October's federal election, has been assigned to handle the pot file. Blair was named one of two parliamentary secretaries to the minister of justice last month. 

Tory told reporters the former chief's "different experiences" would be an asset in developing the legalization plan.

"It's a very complicated matter," said Tory. "Exactly how do you change the law? How do you distribute marijuana? You know, making sure that safety is kept at the forefront."

When he was Toronto's police chief, Blair seemed to support at least one call to legalize the drug. In October 2014, the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH) came out in favour of legalization of marijuana, combined with strict regulation.

At the time, Blair told reporters that it wasn't up to police to make the law, but he was "very encouraged by the public health approach advocated by CAMH."

'Not something we support'

The president of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) also praised Blair in an interview with Metro Morning host Matt Galloway, but did not endorse the legalization of the drug.

Jeff McGuire, who is also the Niagara police chief, said he knows Blair very well and it "makes good sense" to have him on the file.

"We've got great respect for Bill and his career in law enforcement," said McGuire.

But McGuire does not support the legalization of marijuana, and neither does the OACP.

While the chief said it's the job of police to uphold the laws, not make them, legalization is "not something we support."

He said there should be options when it comes to marijuana. He gave the example of two people in a park, one drinking a beer and another smoking a marijuana cigarette. The person with the beer gets a ticket, but the marijuana user either gets prosecuted criminally or the police officer confiscates the marijuana without the lengthy process of charges.

He said ticketing the marijuana user would be one option in that situation, but he still foresees situations when charges are necessary.

Toronto's former chief of police, Bill Blair, will be put in charge of implementing the federal government's plan to legalize marijuana. Matt Galloway spoke with Jeff McGuire. He is the Chief of the Niagara Regional Police. 7:01

He said bringing marijuana across jurisdictions, smoking in public and other violations present complications to the notion of legalization. For instance, he said, impaired driving represents a challenge.

"Currently we have no method of being able to properly test — like you do with a breathalyzer — if they are driving a motor vehicle under the influence [of marijuana]," he said.

Anecdotally, McGuire said, there are a number of issues arising in U.S. cities where marijuana is permitted in some way. He said he reads a lot about that.

"It doesn't sound like everything's going peaches and cream down in Washington state, from what I've read," he said.

One of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's earliest policy planks was a promise to legalize marijuana. The government has not yet indicated when, and how, it will strike possession of pot from the Criminal Code, but it's touting any plan as an improvement to the current framework that, it says, funnels money into the hands of criminals.

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