The federal government established a travelling task force Thursday that will spend the coming months studying how best to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana use in Canada.
The move comes as Ottawa prepares to introduce legislation on the legalization of marijuana in spring 2017 — a timeline first announced by Health Minister Jane Philpott in April at the United Nations General Assembly special session on drugs.
No decisions have been made about what the eventual law will look like, Philpott said in Ottawa on Thursday.
“We have put those questions to the task force and we look forward to their recommendations,” she said. “We will take those recommendations into consideration.”
The group will meet with provincial, territorial, municipal and indigenous governments, she added.
The task force — made up of experts in public health, substance abuse, law enforcement and justice — will be chaired by former Liberal public safety minister Anne McLellan.
McLellan, who also served as deputy prime minister under Paul Martin, said there’s been a deeper understanding of the marijuana landscape over the past decade.
“I think so many people have come to the conclusion, for so many reasons, that the current situation is not working and we need a better way forward,” she said.
“I have, myself, concluded that legalization with a regulatory regime, such as the task force will be exploring, is the way forward.”
Licensed marijuana producers, such as Tweed Inc. in Smiths Falls, Ont., had eagerly awaited the task-force announcement as they eye access to the recreational market.
The panel’s make-up gives credibility to the process, said Tweed Inc. co-founder Bruce Linton.
“I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of questions about whether or not they have a comprehensive perspective, so I like that,” Linton said Thursday in an interview.
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould did not say Thursday how much it will cost taxpayers to conduct consultations, but she noted the government will ensure the task force complies with all Treasury Board guidelines for travel and expenses.
“We are pleased that we have a very committed, voluntary group of members of our task force,” Wilson-Raybould said.
As the government moves toward a legalized regime, it will face key questions including the minimum age of legal purchase, advertising and marketing restrictions, limits of allowable potency, restrictions on products, taxation and pricing.
It will also have to consider a production model.
A government discussion paper also released Thursday noted several jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes and have allowed it to be produced through licensed commercial growers. Those places include Uruguay and the U.S. states of Colorado, Alaska, Oregon and Washington.
A key principle for consideration common to all models is whether those growing marijuana should have to pay a licensing fee so taxpayers are not required to subsidize the program, the paper said.
On the question of distribution models, Philpott said Thursday she did not want to imply every province will end up with the same system though she noted it is possible.
“These are questions that are premature for today,” Philpott said.
Possible options for distribution noted in the paper included a phased-in approach, such as by mail — the model currently used for Canada’s medicinal marijuana regime.
The document also references the potential use of storefronts.
“Allowing for some ability for the sale of marijuana to occur in a legal, regulated retail environment may be required in order to provide an alternative to the current illegal sellers that exist in certain Canadian cities,” it said.
The task force is expected to present advice to the government in a final report by November.
Online public consultations will also be underway until the end of August.
Before pot is given the green light in Canada, the Liberal government does not plan to decriminalize the drug, stressing current laws still apply.
It does not make sense for police to lay charges for simple possession for personal use, the NDP said at a news conference Thursday.
“We are not talking about decriminalizing traffic or the sale,” said Quebec MP Guy Caron.
“We will continue our attempts to have the government listen to reason.”
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