New Brunswick

Public leans to legal age of 19 for pot use, MLAs report

Where to sell marijuana when it's legalized and how old someone should be to buy it ranked high among the concerns of New Brunswick residents who addressed a legislature committee on cannabis this summer.

After consultations around New Brunswick, select committee releases its cannabis report

Liberal MLA Benoît Bourque is chair of a committee that sought opinions from the public this summer on issues related to the legalization of marijuana. (CBC)

Where to sell marijuana when it's legalized and how old someone should be to buy it ranked high among the concerns of New Brunswick residents who addressed a legislature committee on cannabis this summer. 

The committee released its report Friday on the public consultations it held around the province, summing up opinions on issues the government wants to decide before marijuana becomes legal next summer.  

But on some issues, such as the legal age for pot use and where the drug should be sold, opinions were divided, and the committee led by Liberal MLA Benoît Bourque didn't offer guidance of its own.

On the legal age for pot use, for example, the committee said presenters agreed the safety of youth should be a priority when the government regulates the sale of marijuana.

Age 19 favoured

But they didn't agree on a good legal age for using pot.

Benoit said the majority favour 19 as the minimum legal age, partly because it would streamline enforcement, an argument made by the province's working group on the legalization of marijuana, which also proposed 19.

But others, including doctors, were concerned about the drug's effects on the developing brains of people under age 25.

"It was not unanimous," Bourque said in an interview. "There were some other organizations that would prefer it would be of a higher age." 

Education a priority

There was agreement, however, on the need for educational resources, he said.

"Regardless of the legal age, the committee heard that presenters want their children to be able to access information such as health and safety risks of recreational cannabis, usage guidelines and information about impaired driving," the report said.

The federal government announced earlier this year that it wanted recreational marijuana use legalized and regulated by July 2018.

Where to sell it

As for where the drug should be sold, Bourque said a majority of people who spoke to the committee favoured having a Crown corporation, rather than private retailers, manage the sales but they were less certain about whether the drug should be sold under the same roof as alcohol.

The Crown corporation model for recreational pot was also recommended by the provincial working group.

The report by a select committee of the New Brunswick legislature sums up some of the public's health, economic, workplace and driving concerns related to legal marijuana use. (CBC)

"A clear majority of people does support that recommendation … there were some that preferred it would be more open to private dispensaries."

Health and business opportunities were among the concerns of people who addressed this issue of whether alcohol and marijuana should be sold in the same stores.

"Some are fearful this would encourage co-consumption and would pose a danger of relapse for recovering drug and/or alcohol dependencies," the report said.

"Others believe it would be a waste of resources to have separate retail locations exclusively."

Police address committee

Some presenters argued that private retailers would create a huge economic benefit for New Brunswick, and others suggested this might allow smaller craft producers to enter the pot market

In general, people were eager to see the illegal market go, the report said, and the money for marijuana sales kept out of the wrong hands.

There is widespread agreement that impaired driving is a serious issue.- Select committee on cannabis

"Participants, including law enforcement, urged the province to ensure legal recreational cannabis is priced to try to eradicate the illegal market," the report said. 

On the issue of public safety, including in the workplace and on the road, presenters had more questions than opinions, the report suggested.

Employers were concerned about "their limited ability to detect cannabis impairment at work," the report said.

Police and others were concerned about detecting marijuana-impaired drivers.

"There is widespread agreement that impaired driving is a serious issue and that law enforcement must be properly equipped to detect,"  the report said.

CBC's Catherine Harrop gives you the ins and outs of what the federal government has decided and what still up for discussion through the province's working group about marijuana legalization in the province. 1:23

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