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High time

['Editorial']
['Editorial']

It was a bold statement: “We will legalize, regulate and restrict access to marijuana.”

The 2015 federal Liberal election promise caught Canadians’ attention and attracted the votes of many who supported the long-overdue legalization of marijuana.
Many people believe that smoking a joint is no worse than having a beer. Plenty of Canadians — even prime ministers — have tried it. Polls indicate most people want legalization. Medical marijuana use has smoothed the drug’s acceptance.
The government is finally ready to table legislation to legalize marijuana by July 1, 2018. But why the wait? Do we really have to wait another 18 months for proclamation, when 60,000 Canadians are convicted each year for simple possession or personal use?
The Liberals’ delay is perplexing. A task force made 80 recommendations last December. A former Toronto police chief is guiding the legislation. It’s time for the government to get its act together and provide clarity for municipalities, police forces and provinces.
The government made an equally bold promise on electoral reform and then backed down. The list of other broken election promises is extensive, including failure to bring about a return to home mail delivery, and tax cuts for the middle class and small businesses.
So it’s refreshing now to see the federal government poised to proceed on at least one key promise.
No doubt the federal government will take all the credit but dump most of the problems onto the provinces. Ottawa will control the broad strokes of securing the marijuana supply and licensing producers, while the provinces will control the price and how it is bought and sold. All done, of course, with the appropriate federal and provincial excise taxes applied.
But pro-marijuana advocates are right — the Liberals don’t deserve all the credit. Marijuana became an election promise because the public demanded it. The Liberals didn’t fight campaigns for decades, march and protest, face arrest and suffer ridicule or worse, to win this fight.
Still, the rationale for legalization makes sense; current laws trap too many Canadians in the criminal justice system for minor, non-violent offenses. The government wants to keep marijuana out of the hands of children and the profits out of the hands of criminals. There will be stronger laws to punish those who operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana.
But between now and when pot actually becomes legalized, perhaps Ottawa should ask police forces to ease up on their zeal in laying charges for simple marijuana possession and use.
Meanwhile, Canadians who want to grow their own — each household will be allowed four plants — still have time to fit in a horticultural refresher course.
And for politicians suffering headaches and anxiety as they struggle with implementing the legislation? Perhaps their pain can be eased with a few joints — of the medicinal marijuana variety, of course.

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