N.L. marijuana survey: What people want and what they don't

The Newfoundland and Labrador government says more people responded to a survey on marijuana legalization than any other issue.

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons says expect marijuana legislation to be tabled this spring

The federal government has set June 2018 as the target date for marijuana legalization, and Newfoundland and Labrador is expected to debate its provincial legislation in the months before. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

The Newfoundland and Labrador government says a lot of people responded to consultations about legalizing marijuana but they don't agree on everything.

We can't just make a decision based on public opinion.- Andrew Parsons

Results were released Thursday after consultations that included a public online questionnaire and in-person meetings with stakeholders last June.

Close to 2,600 went online to give their opinions, which the justice department says was the most participated in survey the province has ever done.

The results of the survey show broad agreement on issues like the legal age for buying marijuana, and regulations about where where people can smoke or vape and enforcing drug-impaired driving.

However on some issues, such as where marijuana products should be sold, the responses were more varied.

Read the full report here

Andrew Parsons, the province's justice minister, said the results will help guide government policy around marijuana legalization. He said government plans to table legislation in spring 2018, but isn't sure if it will be an omnibus bill or divided into several laws.

Newfoundland and Labrador Justice and Public Safety Minister Andrew Parsons says public opinion will have to be combined with research and professional advice. (Paula Gale/CBC)

Parsons said the results of the surveys will be combined with professional advice and research, and will be compared to other jursidictions in Canada and around the world.

"We can't just make a decision based on public opinion, that's just one aspect to guide us," he said. "We need to know what the public sentiment is on this."

Areas of consensus

Those who filled out the online survey were in agreement on where cannabis products are permitted to be smoked or vaped, with 87 per cent answering that they would like to see restrictions similar to those placed on tobacco; 51 per cent felt the same way about edible products.

When it comes to the legal age for marijuana consumption, 53 per cent chose 19 years old as the preferred age.

When it came to the question "What do you think should be the legal age to purchase cannabis in Newfoundland and Labrador?", a majority felt 19 years old was the best age. (N.L. Department of Justice and Public Safety)
Parsons said even though some research shows that people under 25 shouldn't consume marijuana, government needs to ensure the age is not too high — thereby still pushing people to go to the black market even when pot is legalized.

"Are we able to enforce it at 25?" he said. "The medical research may say one thing, but the realistic side might be 19."

Making sure people aren't getting behind the wheel high was another area that people agreed on, with 75 per cent saying there should be consequences for drug-impaired driving, similar to some of the rules in place for alcohol.

Differing opinions

While there was broad agreement on most issues, there were a few questions where people responded differently — where cannabis products should be sold, for example.

Though 73 per cent said pot-specific dispensaries would be a good model, the responses were split when it came to online or mail orders, and selling drugs in pharmacies or at the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation.

Opinions were split on the question "Where do you think cannabis should be sold?" While 73 per cent supported cannabis-specific stores, people also chose a variety of other responses. (NL Justice and Public Safety)

There was also a divison when it comes to whether the province should restrict commercial production of pot, with 46 per cent saying no and 38 per cent saying yes.

Opinion was split with regard to provincial funding for marijuana production and sale, and with what the government's priority should be when making decisions about cannabis.

For example, 41 per cent said it should be guided by supporting economic development, while 40 per cent said it should be guided by ensuring public safety and protection.

With files from St. John's Morning Show