Justice Minister Wilson-Raybould announced today the launch of a task force to advise the Canadian government on how best to move forward with its plan to legalize marijuana.
The nine-member task force will be chaired by Anne McLellan, a former deputy prime minister under Paul Martin who also served as a health and justice minister.
"The task force will use what it has heard to advise the government on the design of the legislation and the regulatory framework that will include a new system of strict marijuana sales and distribution," Wilson-Raybould said during a news conference in Ottawa on Thursday.
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The panel, whose recommendations will be made public, will have to report back to the government by November before legislation is introduced in the spring of 2017.
The other members of the task force are:
- Dr. Mark A Ware (vice-chair).
- Dr. Susan Boyd.
- George Chow.
- Marlene Jesso.
- Dr. Perry Kendall.
- Rafik Souccar.
- Dr. Barbara von Tigerstrom.
- Dr. Catherine Zahn.
Restrictions on pot growers?
Wilson-Raybould reminded Canadians that police would continue to enforce the current laws until new legislation is in place.
"Production and possession of marijuana are illegal unless it has been authorized for medical purposes," she said.
Selling pot commercially without a licence is still illegal, the government warned today.
"These storefronts sell untested products that may be unsafe and of particular risk to kids and they are supplied by illegal growers," said Michel Picard, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of public safety.
While it's still unclear what restrictions will be imposed on marijuana growers, Bill Blair, the parliamentary secretary to the justice minister and Toronto's former top cop, said the government had a responsibility to put in place legislation "to control the production, distribution and the consumption" of pot.
"It is not like [growing] tomatoes," said Blair, who has been given a leading role in the government's marijuana legalization plan.
"It is a substance that poses certain significant both social and health harms and risks to Canadians and we want to make sure we mitigate those risks and take an effective harm reduction approach to protect our communities, to protect our kids, and the health of Canadians."
Health Minister Jane Philpott also warned of the health and safety risks of marijuana, particularly to children and youth.
"Marijuana use has negative effects on young brains and brain development during adolescence, lays the foundation or alternatively for the struggles that may lie ahead."
Philpott said Canadian teenagers use pot more than any other illicit drug and have among the highest rates of marijuana use compared to other developed countries.
Decriminalization doesn't meet 'objectives'
New Democrats have been urging the Liberal government for some time to decriminalize simple possession of marijuana for personal use.
But on Thursday, the government closed the door on bringing in any interim measures, making the case for legalizing marijuana — not decriminalizing it.
"It is important to understand that decriminalization does not meet any of our objectives...," Picard, the parliamentary secretary to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, said in French.
NDP MP Guy Caron accused the Liberals of backtracking from a commitment they made during last October's federal election campaign.
"We're not talking about decriminalizing traffic or the sale. We're talking about simple possession for personal consumption, something the Liberals themselves said they would decriminalize in their platform," Caron said during a news conference in Ottawa Thursday.
"So we're extremely disappointed with what we heard this morning and will continue our attempts to have the government listen to reason."
The Trudeau government campaigned on a promise to "legalize, regulate, and restrict access to marijuana."
"We will remove marijuana consumption and incidental possession from the Criminal Code, and create new, stronger laws to punish more severely those who provide it to minors, those who operate a motor vehicle while under its influence, and those who sell it outside of the new regulatory framework."
In 2003, the Liberals under former prime minister Jean Chrétien tried to decriminalize simple possession of marijuana but were unsuccessful.
McLellan, who served in the Chrétien government, said she has come to the conclusion that legalization is the way to go.
"I have, myself, concluded that legalization with a regulatory regime such as the task force will be exploring is the way forward," she said.
Chrétien recently said he is still in favour of decriminalization.
The government has also launched online consultations and invited Canadians to weigh in on a discussion paper it said would be posted on its website today.