PEI

Into the weeds: Premiers discuss details surrounding cannabis legalization

Premiers from across the country met in Edmonton earlier this week and one of the issues that was discussed was the impending legalization of cannabis.

3 main concerns were enforcement, public health and distribution.

The issue of cannabis legalization was discussed when provincial and territorial leaders met earlier this week. (Jim Young/Reuters)

Premiers from across the country met in Edmonton earlier this week and one of the issues that was discussed was the impending legalization of cannabis.

Premier Wade MacLauchlan said that three areas of concern for provincial and territorial leaders were public health and safety, law enforcement and distribution, supply and pricing.

"There's a lot going on," he said.

"It's really for Canadians to understand that this is something that's not just a matter of passing a piece of legislation and making something legal that for decades has been treated as a criminal activity." 

Law enforcement

The most important issue for MacLauchlan was enforcing the laws once the drug is legalized.

"Enforcement, and in particular around highways. So there's a real concern about the ability to detect," he said.

Premier Wade MacLauchlan says that the provinces and territories need to work with the federal government to prepare for marijuana becoming legal. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

The premier said that there are questions about the capability of some kind of breathalyzer for cannabis. 

"I would say most people would tell you there isn't something that's that reliable," MacLauchlan said.

"It took a while for that to evolve and develop."

Premier Wade MacLauchlan says that one of the problems with enforcement is that there isn't a breathalyzer-type test that detects impairment for drug use. (CBC)

Without a device to test for cannabis, MacLauchlan said that police would have to be trained in how to do "physical tests" and testifying in court regarding "impairment related to drug use."

For Islanders to have the opportunity to have an opinion or to have a say or to be aware of this issue.- Premier Wade MacLauchlan

"That's a very particular training," he said.

"There aren't enough people trained to do that today in Prince Edward Island or in Canada."

"That's one of the very direct steps that would be involved, including costs of there being policing personnel that would have that capacity."

The premier added that questions about the use of these kinds of tests as evidence in court need to be examined further.

Distribution, supply and pricing

MacLauchlan said that many of the decisions regarding where people would purchase cannabis, how it is priced, and the age at which possession is legal all have to be made.

He said there is a working group among the provinces and territories putting a report together on issues of cooperation and harmonization that is expected in November.

This is the equivalent of when Canada moved from prohibition to legalized alcohol.- Premier Wade MacLauchlan

The premier also said that the Atlantic provinces are working together to create a regional plan.

"There's a very strong case for there to be a harmonized approach or a consistent approach on things such as age and distribution and pricing for the four provinces," he said.

Premier Wade MacLauchlan says the province is working on where marijuana will be sold and wants to engage the public before making a final decision. (Mark Thiessen/The Associated Press)

MacLauchlan said that decisions about whether marijuana will be sold by public or private companies haven't been made.

He said that the province wants to engage the public with consultations that will begin in mid-to-late August and run into September, but he wants options ready for the public to discuss.

"For Islanders to have the opportunity to have an opinion or to have a say or to be aware of this issue," he said.

Health and safety

MacLauchlan said that public health and safety is also an area of concern.

Public perception of the drug is an important part of this as MacLauchlan said that Canadians need to "understand that there is a problem of being impaired while driving and having used marijuana." 

He said it will take working with the federal government to ensure that the province is prepared.

Premier Wade MacLauchlan compared legalizing marijuana and the challenges that brings with ending prohibition of alcohol sales. (Library of Congress/Reuters)

"To determine any evidence that is required, any standards that are required, and any resources that are required … for it to be optimal in terms of public and health and public safety for Canadians and in our case Prince Edward Islanders."

MacLauchlan stressed that the country, and the Island are moving into uncharted territory with a historical precedent.

"This is the equivalent of when Canada moved from prohibition to legalized alcohol," he said. 

"Lots of people would tell you that we're still kind of working our way through, or discovering what some of the unintended consequences are, or what some of the challenges are in terms of having legalized alcohol."

With files from CBC News: Compass