Editorial: Introducing Mary Jane

Published on April 18, 2017

Legalization is coming, and the provinces have to be ready.

The Atlantic provinces have some blue-sky thinking to do, and not much time to do it.

Or more to the point: maybe they have some blue-smoke thinking to be doing.

Last week, the federal government announced its plans to legalize marijuana and, in so doing, threw the ball into the provincial court. The provinces will have the final say on how weed will be marketed in their regions, and also on things like the minimum age of purchasers. And that’s only the beginning. In fact, the provinces have more than a little heavy lifting of their own to do in the 15 months before the federal government’s changed rules become law.

For the most part, the response has been like that of a representative for Nova Scotia’s provincial government: “Legalization of cannabis must ensure that the health and safety of children and youth are protected. It is important that we focus on responsible use and that the sale of cannabis is well-regulated and minimizes the involvement of organized crime.”

In Newfoundland and Labrador, there was a promise of public consultation and a clear process for police to deal with pot-impaired drivers, with Justice Minister Andrew Parsons saying, “No doubt there’s a lot of challenges here. This is a huge, fundamental shift for our province, and for the country.”

Prince Edward Island already has a licensed medical marijuana producer, as does New Brunswick. And while P.E.I. politicians may still be considering the impact of the upcoming legislation, in New Brunswick, they’ve jumped in with both feet.

The push has been to take advantage of a financial opportunity: “We believe that here in New Brunswick, we should do what we can to get a piece of the economic growth that’s going to happen because of the legalization of marijuana. There are going to be jobs created,” Premier Brian Gallant said in early April. “Once we keep people safe and get marijuana out of the hands of youth, we should be treating this industry as any other.”

There’s a lot to do, and precious little time. And the four Atlantic provinces, with so much in common, should be aware that, along with shared borders, we’re going to have shared marijuana users. If one jurisdiction has regulation that’s more lax than the others, buyers will stream in and pot will stream out.

It makes for an interesting juggling act — not only do individual provincial governments have to listen to the desires of their constituents, they have to be aware of the close geographic connections.

There are interesting times ahead and a tight timeline, along with the chance at a new source of tax revenue.

Not being ready when next July arrives probably isn’t an option. As other jurisdictions have shown, if you’re not ready for marijuana legalization, it can overtake you in a hurry.