The federal minister who has been the Liberal government’s point man for the legalization of cannabis stopped in Maple Ridge on Thursday.
Bill Blair the Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction, met with local people at the offices of Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge MP Dan Ruimy, and talked about the changes coming on Wednesday, when recreational use of marijuana becomes legal.
With days to go, he is comfortable with the government rollout.
Blair said it is a process of implementation that he has been working on for two and a half years, working with provinces, territories and municipalities. He was meeting with people in the riding who will be impacted by changes, “to get their perspectives, listen to their concerns, and give them answers to the questions they’ve got.
“I will tell you, I’m confident because of the work that we’ve been doing,” he said. “We are introducing perhaps the most comprehensive, and I think far more effective system of regulatory control that controls every aspect of production, distribution and consumption of this drug. I think it will be helpful in protecting our kids, displacing the illicit market and making our community safer. So I’m anxious to get on with the work.”
He is confident that the illicit market will eventually disappear as Canadians choose to buy government marijuana.
“Let’s be honest, the black market has controlled 100 per cent of this illicit market for over a century. They make billions of dollars in profit every year,” he said. “We are, beginning next week on Wednesday, introducing a new market that will allow Canadian adults to make a different choice – to make a legitimate, safer healthier choice, where the cannabis they purchase is of known providence, purity and potency.”
He said the government will begin displacing the illicit market by allowing people to make a legal, “more responsible” choice.
“It won’t happen overnight, but we begin next Wednesday.”
The opportunity to make that more responsible choice will be somewhat limited, Blair admitted, because there will be just one new store in the province.
Where will people in Maple Ridge buy their new government-sanctioned marijuana?
Blair answered that next week there will be an online ordering and delivering system, with product to be delivered by Canada Post.
“That will be the beginning. I know the plan in B.C. is to open the first store in Kamloops, but in the coming months, the province has made if very clear that additional stores will be open in additional locations,” he said.
He appreciates the province taking a careful approach.
And, Blair said he respects that the City of Pitt Meadows council has decided it will allow no retail outlets selling pot.
Blair said he has great respect for the Pitt Meadows’ authority and concerns.
“But I would remind them that in every community in this country there are drug dealers, that currently make this drug available to our kids,” he said. “They profit in the billions of dollars every year from this illegal activity – the cannabis they are selling untested, unregulated and totally unsafe, often adulterated with dangerous chemicals.”
He said there is a way to put stores in places that are appropriate, away from schools, and where they fit in a city.
A child in Comox had to be airlifted to hospital after eating a gummy bear infused with cannabis earlier this month. Blair said the government will not be allowing pot cookies and candies that are attractive to children.
“That’s why edibles currently remain unlawful, until we bring in regulations to properly control them,” said Blair. “The regulations will require that any edible product available for sale and consumption in Canada will not be attractive to children. Our first priority has to be the protection of our kids.”
There are three medicinal marijuana dispensaries operating in Maple Ridge. Blair said the government will not descend on them next week, but any operating outside the new regulatory regime have their days numbered.
“The dispensaries that are not licensed, and selling cannabis that was not produced under the existing licensing regime are operating outside of the law. And I believe in time adult Canadians will make a better and safer choice in where they purchase their cannabis,” he said.
He added there are already laws in place to allow law enforcement to deal with illegal production and sale, which remain serious criminal offences, and which have significant financial penalties.
“This is a process, not an event. Next Wednesday it isn’t all going to fall into place, but we begin to put the pieces in place.”
Ruimy hosted two meetings with the minister at his office. He had city officials, RCMP senior officers, Alouette Addictions, Dr. Biju Matthew of the Youth Wellness Centre, the Salvation Army and other organizations represented.
They had questions such as changing messaging about drug education, where the finances will go?
Ruimy said that one-third of the population has used, or uses, marijuana for medical or recreational purposes.
“When you’ve got one third of the population using it, prohibition has never worked. It needs to come out of the shadows, and our organizations whether it be police, addictions or schools … they can now come out and have conversations.”