Nfld. & Labrador

St. John's lawyer warns 'tremendous' amount still unknown after federal marijuana report

A St. John's criminal defence lawyer is sounding the alarm over the lack of clarity, following the findings released Tuesday by the federal government's task force on marijuana legalization.

Bob Simmonds says impaired driving statistics just one part of 'uncertainty'

Criminal defence lawyer Bob Simmonds says the details of manufacturing, distributing and selling marijuana are just a few of the many issues that need greater clarity. (CBC)

A St. John's criminal defence lawyer is sounding the alarm over a lack of clarity on what marijuana legalization will mean for the Canadian court system, following findings released Tuesday by the federal government's task force.

"There is a tremendous body of information unknown," Bob Simmonds told CBC's St. John's Morning Show on Wednesday after reviewing the federal government's report.

"A lot of unknown, a lot of uncertainty out there. That's not good for the law."

Simmonds said the effects of marijuana, allowable THC limits for driving, roadside testing devices, a possible correlation between car crashes and THC levels and distribution of the drug are all major issues that are too vague right now.

The federal government's task force on marijuana legalization reported on its findings on Tuesday. (CBC)

He's also calling for clarity to avoid any legal limbo. 

"If you're charged with the commission of an offence and the penalty changes before you're sentenced, you're entitled to the lighter sentence," he said, referencing the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"Lawyers are going to present that as hey, the sentence should now be reflective of society's attitude."

Simmonds said that may sound like an easy update for simple marijuana possession charges, but the change will "also filter through all the other offences … importation of it, distribution of it, legal production of it."

Justice minister cites concerns for impaired driving

Newfoundland and Labrador's justice minister says the prospect of drug-impaired driving — and efforts to stamp it out — is a major issue occupying his government with marijuana legalization around the corner.

Residents and police officers in the province are voicing concerns about impaired driving, and how the provincial government is planning to regulate it, according to minister Andrew Parsons.

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons speaks outside the House of Assembly in St. John's. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

He told reporters Tuesday that while he's supportive of legalization efforts, impaired driving is one of his biggest concerns.

"The big issue, right on its face, I think, is the enforcement side. Just the concept of drug-impaired driving is the one that sticks out to me," he said.

Parsons said his government is working on the issue and meeting with police forces in Newfoundland and Labrador regularly. He says the regulation of marijuana use on highways requires a lot of legal analysis, as it has Charter of Rights and Freedoms implications.

Ready to go

The federal government's task force on marijuana legalization reported on its findings on Tuesday.

While the report contained some clear recommendations on age limits and marketing, it recognized what Parsons called "gaps" in the current scientific understanding of cannabis impairment, including the fact that the levels of THC — the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana — in bodily fluids "cannot be used to reliably indicate the degree of impairment."

Anne McLellan is a former Liberal cabinet minister and chair of the task force appointed by the Canadian government to study the legalization of marijuana. (CBC)

"More research and evidence, investments in law enforcement capacity, technology and tools, and comprehensive public education are needed urgently," the report said.

Parsons said he was happy that progress is being made towards marijuana legalization, but added he needs time to fully review the task force's advice and see how it would apply in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"I'm looking forward to digging into that and seeing what they have and how we can move forward with it," he said.

"I have no doubt we'll be ready to go, but I mean it is federally driven. It's hard for us to say right now exactly what our plan is." 

Canada's federal government has indicated legislation to legalize marijuana use will be introduced next year.

With files from St. John's Morning Show