Cannabis sobriety 'pilot' tests now underway, says federal Health Minister

The federal Minister of Health told her provincial counterparts at a meeting in Edmonton that much work is being done to prepare for the fast-approaching legalization of cannabis.

'For July 1st, I think we will all be ready,' says Quebec minister

For the first time since her appointment, federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor met face to face with her provincial counterparts. (CBC)

The federal Minister of Health told her provincial counterparts at a meeting in Edmonton that much work is being done to prepare for the fast-approaching legalization of cannabis.

Ginette Petitpas Taylor said at a news conference following a  meeting with provincial and territorial health ministers that her priority is to craft a "prevention" program to launch before the July 1, 2018 legalization date.

"Prevention in this area is key," said Petitpas Taylor, who explained that was a takeaway lesson from jurisdictions in the United States that have already legalized cannabis.

"We want to target our youth, but also we want to make sure that healthcare professionals and parents have the tools they need as well to be able to speak to their kids about these choices," Pettipas Taylor said.

Petitpas Taylor said a public-education campaign is now being developed with the help of non-profit groups and the provinces.

Cannabis legal limit

She also revealed funding has already been provided to police and RCMP for tools and training  to administer sobriety tests.

"Pilot tests are already taking place across the country to ensure the police are prepared to deal with that situation," she said.

But the federal government has not indicated what's involved in those sobriety tests or told the public what amount of cannabis will be against the law.

While provinces are responsible for creating rules regarding the sale of cannabis, the federal government will set the regulations regarding edible cannabis.

Petitpas Taylor said she hopes to have those regulations established within a year after cannabis is legalized.

Alberta is still undecided on whether cannabis will be sold like alcohol through private stores, or by a government-operated system.

Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said more public consultation is being done but she fully expects Alberta will be able to meet the deadline.

"We expect we'll be able to achieve it," said Hoffman.

Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette said Thursday the biggest challenge facing health ministers is dealing with the cannabis deadline.

On Friday, with the federal minister present, Barrette toned down his concerns.

"For July 1st, I think we will all be ready," said Barrette.

"Although we know there are some challenges, for example awareness campaigns," he said.

"We need to have that as soon as possible and I think Minister Petitpas Taylor is really working in that direction," he added.

Provincial and territorial health ministers have agreed to continue to collaborate on pursuing a national pharmacare plan, and collaborating on ways to address the opioid problem.

No national progress on opioids

The vague agreement wasn't enough for Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, who is the chair of the Big City Mayors' Caucus Task Force on the Opioid Crisis.

In a press release, Robertson called on the federal government to implement a pan-Canadian strategy to fight the opioid epidemic.

He also chided the ministers for not including big city mayors in their discussion.

"Despite some progress on opening harm reduction services and improving data and reporting, this overdose crisis is escalating," wrote Robertson.

"We've seen almost no national progress to improve access to treatment, minimal awareness and education campaigns, and there are no established timelines or evidence-based targets to end opioid overdoses and deaths," he added.

Petitpas Taylor responded by saying the opioid epidemic is a "national public health crisis," and said numerous programs are being funded to deal with the problem across Canada.