There's potential for "a bit of revenue" from legalizing marijuana, but the federal government isn't looking for a financial windfall, the prime minister says.
The Liberal plan to legalize pot has always been about public health and safety, not making money, Justin Trudeau said in a wide-ranging roundtable interview this week with The Canadian Press.
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Any cash that flows to public coffers through marijuana taxation should go towards addiction treatment, mental health support and education programs — not general revenues, he said.
The Liberals have promised to legalize, regulate and restrict access to marijuana to keep it out of the hands of children while denying criminals the financial profits.
The current system of prohibition does not stop young people from using marijuana and too many Canadians end up with criminal records for possessing small amounts of the drug, the Liberals say.
The government plans to remove marijuana consumption and incidental possession from the Criminal Code, and create new laws to more severely punish those who provide it to minors or operate a motor vehicle while under its influence.
Trudeau promises to set up a task force with representatives from the three levels of government and, with input from experts in public health, substance abuse and policing, design a new system of marijuana sales and distribution.
It would include federal and provincial excise taxes. However, Trudeau cautioned against imposing steep levies designed to discourage its use.
High taxes could drive black market
"The fact is that, if you tax it too much as we saw with cigarettes, you end up with driving things towards a black market, which will not keep Canadians safe — particularly young Canadians."
In Vancouver on Thursday, where he was meeting with Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, Trudeau said he expects different perspectives and solutions when it comes to implementing the new approach across the country.
He stressed the importance of listening to municipal partners, provinces and representatives of the medical marijuana industry, as well as drawing on best practices from around the world.
"We are going to get this right in a way that suits Canadians broadly, and specifically in their communities," he said. "And (it's) why we're taking the time to weigh in properly and ensure that we're achieving our goals of protecting our young people and removing the criminal profits."
Robertson called it a "relief" that there will be collaboration to develop a "smart and effective" way to regulate marijuana.