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Omission of marijuana reform in budget not a stall tactic – Ottawa

Tabaret Hall - University of Ottawa

The fact marijuana law reform was absent from the 2016 federal budget does not diminish Liberals’ stance on legalization, a top drug policy expert says.

Eugene Oscapella, a University of Ottawa criminal justice professor and lawyer who specializes in social policy development, says, in fact, that the omission of funding to regulate marijuana is actually a good thing given the government should be focused on a health-based approach, rather than viewing it as a major source of tax revenue.

“First you have to design the regulatory framework,” says Oscapella. “The provinces are going to have to get involved in this, and there are costs and benefits to each side.”

Former Toronto police chief Bill Blair, who is parliamentary press secretary to the Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, is charged with the job of creating a task force to study other jurisdictions where recreational marijuana use is legal. Because Blair has yet to announce who is on that panel, Oscapella estimates regulation to legalize it is at least 18 months away.

However, NDP health critic Don Davies says the omission from Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s budget should be cause for concern.

“Obviously nothing has been costed or there’s no fiscal resources attributed to it,” said Davies. “Considering that this has been a major promise of the Liberals, I think Canadians should keep a close eye on the government on this.”

Davies said a change in social and criminal policy across the country should not be taken lightly but that in the meantime he wants possession for small amounts of marijuana to be decriminalized.

“There’s no reason why Canadians should get criminal records now for small amounts of marijuana possession or usage when the government has already signalled that they want to legalize it,” he said.

Oscapella said there are 60,000 cannabis offences a year Canada, about half of them resulting in criminal charges. With legalization, the need for law enforcement would diminish, he said. Under a regulated system, underaged youths might still get access to cannabis, but the offence would be no different than a young teen paying someone who is of age to buy them alcohol, for example.

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