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The nervous, joyless journey to legalize marijuana 

By Susan Riley      

Our leaders are in the process of legalizing recreational pot, but they don’t want anyone to think they approve. The grudging message seems to be: you can smoke, as long as you don’t inhale.

Liberal MP Bill Blair, left, and Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor, pictured Nov. 21 in the House foyer. Ms. Petitpas Taylor last week called for public input on how to package the distasteful product. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade
GATINEAU, QUE.—The adults of Canada are deeply conflicted about marijuana. By “adults,” I mean most politicians over 30 years old. By “conflicted” I mean that our leaders are in the process of legalizing recreational pot, but they don’t want anyone to think they approve. The grudging message seems to be: you can smoke, as long as you don’t inhale.
This is not about fun, not about kicking back on a Friday night with a few government-approved joints, a seasonal casserole and the latest Netflix series. It is, as Newfoundland’s justice minister intoned last week, about “harm reduction.” It may sound counter-intuitive, but politicians claim the move to make it less stressful, if not exactly easier, to get uncontaminated, legal weed is aimed at preventing young people (the main consumers) from getting their hands on the stuff. At the same time, it is about putting the boots to organized crime. It is a grim, adult business, in other words, and no one, but no one, seems happy about it.
Wresting control of a thriving business from the professionals and turning it over to amateurs—federal bureaucrats; provincial liquor boards; rosy-cheeked health ministers—is no easy task, especially with Justin Trudeau’s July 2018 deadline looming. And, this being Canada, there will be different rules in every province for the consumption, distribution and regulation of pot.
In the informal competition to make it as difficult as possible to get legal weed, Quebec—surprisingly, given its joie de vivre—is leading. Government pot will be available in 15 retail stores when the program launches. Fifteen! That number will soar to 150 by 2020, but expect lineups: this brilliant marketing scheme envisions one store per 550,000 Quebecers. By comparison, the Quebec liquor board has more than 800 sales outlets, and beer and wine are available at every corner store.
Pot will also be sold online in Quebec, as in several other provinces, but you are going to have to prove your age and be home for delivery. No word yet on how much that will cost, or how extensive the delivery network will be. But there will be no shipping Alberta pot to Quebec residents, understandably. Who can forget the nightmare of interprovincial beer smuggling?
As for growing your own, that will be strictly prohibited in Quebec—on the kitchen ledge, or in the garden. Despite the fact that federal law allows four plants per household—and that growing for personal use might, indeed, cut into Hell’s Angel’s profits—Quebec isn’t on board. The only legal way to get pot in the province will be from the government monopoly, the Société Québécoise du Cannabis, which will manage those retail outlets and, notionally, sell online.
No word yet on where Quebec plans to get its supply, how much it will charge per joint, how it is going to enforce the no-indoor-plants policy and how many hundreds are going to be fined, or suspended from driving, or arrested, for failing the roadside saliva tests. Any amount of drug in the system will mean an automatic penalty, even though it is still unclear how much THC a person must consume to be impaired.

The persistent Quebecer, who manages to buy the federal-provincial weed, will be able to smoke it wherever it is legal to smoke cigarettes—which means most of the sidewalks and parks of Montreal. As to rules on smoking dope on university and CEGEP campuses (legally, that is): still hazy. And while you can carry only 30 grams on your person, you can stock an unlimited supply at home. The words “back-door black market” spring to mind.

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