OTTAWA — Canadian laws on marijuana remain on the books and must be upheld and enforced even though the government plans to usher in legalization, former Toronto police chief and Liberal MP Bill Blair said Wednesday.
Blair, parliamentary secretary to the justice minister, was among several officials who spoke at an open Senate Liberal caucus meeting focused on the legalization of marijuana.
Blair has been tapped by the Trudeau government to take a leading role on the file, working closely with the departments of Justice, Public Safety and Health.
Liberal MP Bill Blair responds to a question in the House of Commons. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/CP)
"The laws that currently exist, exist in this country and we are a ... nation of laws," Blair said.
"Quite frankly, until those laws are repealed by Parliament through the appropriate processes, they should be upheld, they should be obeyed."
The criminal sanctions should be eventually be replaced by a regulatory framework, Blair added.
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Jim Munson, a member of the Senate Liberal caucus, said the government's time frame gives him pause, considering the upper chamber studied and recommended legalizing marijuana some 14 years ago.
Munson asked Blair if there was a contingency plan for thousands of Canadians who walk around with criminal records for possession charges.
"In the interim, as everybody works on these issues, is that a possibility — that amnesty could be granted during this four-year term?" Munson asked.
Blair did not answer the question directly.
"We are going to take the time to do it right.... This is a complex issue," Blair said. "In order to get this right, the government is undertaking a number of initial steps."
The first step in the path to legalization will be establishing a provincial, territorial and federal task force to hear from public health, substance abuse and public safety experts.
The details of task force should be announced in the coming weeks, Blair said.
Clive Weighill, president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, also addressed the Senate forum on Wednesday.
He said legalization will change the world of enforcement on marijuana and front line police will need new training.
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