Nova Scotia's marijuana plan expected by end of 2017
'We're well-positioned now to come to conclusions by the end of the calendar year,' says Mark Furey
Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey said Nova Scotians can expect to hear about the province's marijuana plan by the end of 2017.
"Our objective hopefully is by the end of the calendar year we'll have a clear position on age and distribution," he told reporters Thursday following a cabinet meeting. "We'll do that before the holidays."
Cannabis is expected to be legalized across the country by Canada Day 2018.
Online survey results
In October, the province launched an online survey asking for the public's opinion on issues like the legal age to purchase and use recreational cannabis, where it can be purchased and where it can be used.
Furey said 31,000 people responded to the survey, which ran between Oct. 6 and Oct. 27. He said he anticipates the results from the survey will be available by mid-November, but they will need to be analyzed.
On Tuesday, CBC held a public forum called Joint Venture about what marijuana legalization could look like in Nova Scotia. Furey declined to be part of the panel.
Response to Joint Venture panel
Two panellists, Todd Leader and Nadine Wentzell, mentioned the province had not reached out to either of them regarding cannabis safety issues in the workplace and legalities around it.
"I think the employers in general have been obviously absent from any of the discussions. [They] have not been invited to participate in anything related to safety," said Wentzell, a pharmacist and a consultant on drugs in the workplace.
"There's been no employer consultation and as far as I'm aware, no employer involvement either."
Leader, president of the Association of Psychologists of Nova Scotia as well as vice-president of the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers, said he hasn't heard of any consultations either.
"I've got zero information about what's happening and where this government is going," said Leader.
Retail future of cannabis
Furey said the province has "reached out extensively across multiple sectors," including health care and others.
The Justice Department released a list Thursday of all 82 organizations consulted as part of the department's fact-finding effort. Stakeholders included advocacy groups, health associations and boards, cannabis growers, police departments and dozens of municipalities.
"We may not have had discussions with every practising psychologist or family doctor, but the profession has certainly been represented and we believe provides a good indicator of their opinions, views and advice," said Furey in an interview Wednesday evening.
The minister said he has not and will not talk to those who are already selling pot through dispensaries.
"Those who are selling cannabis now illegally, it's illegal. I don't believe that I should be engaging in those discussions," he said.
"[It's] no different than my decision not to participate in the CBC panel this week. There was an individual on the panel with matters before the court. I believe it's inappropriate for the justice minister to be engaging in those discussions."
Before entering politics, Furey was a career RCMP officer.
As for the future of those "illegal" operations, Furey wouldn't speculate.
"No decisions have been made" regarding dispensaries and if those will be allowed to operate, he said.
"We will make those decisions by the end of the year and then be in a better position to determine what retail model will be available to Nova Scotians," said Furey.
Legal age and punishment
The minister, as well as Premier Stephen McNeil, have said they would prefer to harmonize rules with the other Atlantic provinces.
But Furey brushed aside the suggestion that because New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador are looking at setting the minimum age at 19, and July first is just eight months away, it leaves little room for Nova Scotia to pick a different age.
"This is not a race to the finish line. This is about getting it right."
The federal government has set the minimum age of cannabis consumption to 18, although the provinces will be able to decide if the age should be higher.
If someone underage is caught with it after it's legalized, Furey said the process would be similar to if an underage person was caught with it today.
"The difference is the legal age. There will be limitations certainly on the amount an individual can possess. Up to 30 grams is the federal guideline. I anticipate that's a fair landing place and a reasonable amount," Furey said.
With files from Tom Murphy