Province will 'wait and see' as feds move to legalize marijuana, says N.L. justice minister

Newfoundland and Labrador's justice minister says the province is taking a "wait and see" approach to marijuana legalization.

Andrew Parsons says he's supportive of federally driven process, says government will do it right

Newfoundland and Labrador Justice Minister Andrew Parsons says marijuana legalization will require a co-ordinated approach across many government departments. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

In the wake of the recent revelation that the Canadian government plans to legalize marijuana by July 2018, Newfoundland and Labrador's justice minister says the province is taking a "wait and see" approach.

"We have no choice" but to prepare for legalization, Andrew Parsons told CBC on Tuesday, adding that he's supportive of the federal government's decision.

"It is a federally driven process, though, so we have to sort of wait and see and work with our colleagues."

But marijuana legalization is not just a justice-driven initiative, pointed out Parsons.

"Finance has a role here. When you think about the provincial role when it comes to distribution and taxation, that's something that would fall completely outside of my department. Health and Community Services has a huge role to play in this. Service NL, when it comes to regulation. This is a government-wide conversation."

'Great deal of work and consultation'

The Toronto member of Parliament who is the federal government's point man on legalization agrees.

Bill Blair, parliamentary secretary to the federal justice minister and attorney general, said there's been a "great deal of work and consultation" across Canada for the past 18 months, because nobody will be acting in isolation on legalization.

Our aim is to keep this out of the hands of kids.- Bill Blair

That's why, he said, the task force has been speaking to people across all sectors and levels of government; mayors, police chiefs, fire departments, bylaw officers, public health officials.

"These are all parts of society's response to the challenge around cannabis control. Our aim is to keep this out of the hands of kids." 

Ottawa's point man on the legalization of marijuana issue, Bill Blair, says there will be strict controls on the drug when it is legalized. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

"Our aim is to replace the criminal enterprise that's currently being run by organized crime in the production and distribution of this drug, with a regulated system of production and distribution that has strict controls, oversight, measurement, testing and accountability," said Blair.

No legalization without strict regulation

Legalization shouldn't be spoken about without also discussing regulation, said Blair, in St. John's Tuesday to take part in a summit on the criminal justice system.

"If all we were going to do was legalize it, I don't think we would be effective in protecting our kids, protecting our communities and protecting the health of our citizens."

Parsons said he thinks government will be able to handle legalization — "the will of Canadians," he said.

"It's a big move. It's a big shift, so there is concern there, because you want to do it right," said Parsons. "But I'm pretty confident that we're going to be able to do that."