Health unit wants strict rules for pot legalization
|By Alex Coop - Staff Writer | April 20, 2017
The Liberals’ pot legalization bill answered basic questions when it was introduced April 13, but there’s a lot to think about for the next 15 months before it passes into law, says Leslie Orpana, the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit’s (HKPR’s) director of chronic disease and injury prevention.
The health unit was one of 30 across the province that collaborated on a response to the federal government’s discussion paper last summer on legalizing marijuana.
“We’re kind of hoping that they will take a cautious approach,” Orpana told The Highlander. “It’s a lot easier to loosen restrictions than to tighten them.”
A lot of their feedback had to do with lessons learned from the marketing, access and sale of tobacco and alcohol.
While the minimum age limit for the purchase and sale of pot set by the Liberals is three years less than the health units’ preference of 21, the province will be able to change that.
“We hope when the provinces comes out with regulations, they will bump the legal minimum age to 21,” she said.
The health unit’s strongly encouraged plain packaging to prevent marijuana from becoming appealing to youth.
“We don’t want our youth thinking it’s just another commodity that is purchased. It has the potential to do harm … and is not something everyone can use at all times,” Orpana said.
The federal government has said little about how marijuana will be taxed, and claims additional details will be made available in the months ahead.
Provinces and territories would license and oversee the distribution and sale of marijuana, subject to federal conditions.
Orpana says the government has to find a “sweet spot” when it comes to taxation and pricing.
“We know when the price is high enough, it can discourage youth enough from picking it up. If it’s too high, it opens the gate for some of the black market products.
Too low, and it’s then easily accessible to youth.”
Studies, including one from the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, show there is strong evidence that raising cigarette prices through increased taxes often leads to reduced smoking behaviour among young adults and youth in Canada.
The current tobacco taxes are $3.10 on a pack of 20 cigarettes, $3.87 on a pack of 25 and $30.95 on a carton of 200 cigarettes.
Ontario would also need to invest in stronger roadside testing for marijuana impairment, says Orpana.
The Ontario Provincial Police currently relies on its drug recognition evaluator (DRE) officers to enforce the law when it comes to impaired driving.
Peter Leon, the OPP’s provincial media relations coordinator, says there’s a push to train additional DRE officers who can test for drug impairment.
These tests are often performed at the detachment.
A DRE officer is called if a standardized roadside sobriety test results in a fail.
“If I pull you over in Haliburton and they didn’t have a DRE, I could call one in from the City of Kawartha Lakes or Huntsville,” Leon said.
Some police departments across the country are participating in a pilot project involving saliva tests for drivers suspected of drug impairment.
Until changes in the legislation, however, police will continue to enforce the country’s current laws surrounding marijuana, says Leon.
The possession and sale of cannabis for non-medical purposes is still illegal everywhere in Canada.
MPP for Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, Laurie Scott, says the offloading of the responsibilities surrounding the distribution and sale of cannabis to the provinces, is a bit of a concern.
“It’s going to be a very tricky balancing act,” Scott said about the taxation and pricing of marijuana. “We have to start consulting with our stakeholders and health experts now to figure out how we’re going to do this, because it’s going to take a lot of time.”
ALEX COOP is a reporter for The Highlander.