OTTAWA — If a Canadian province doesn’t set up a framework to sell marijuana legally, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal government will ensure pot is available to all Canadians online.
Trudeau said he recognizes that different provinces will have different approaches but they will have more than one year to establish the systems they want to use to sell cannabis.
“If they decide they don’t want to bring legislation forward, we will make [marijuana] available through a federal system, probably on the Internet,” Trudeau told VICE Canada Monday evening during a town hall event focused on pot.
“Our system will be accessible for all who do not have a system in their province,” Trudeau continued, in French. “So there will be a way for all across the country, who have the age of maturity, to buy cannabis.”
Nearly two weeks ago, the federal government unveiled its long-awaited marijuana legislation, which will give adults the right to legally buy and smoke cannabis, to hold up to 30 grams in public and to grow four plants per household.
Ottawa also unveiled tough laws for anyone found to be selling cannabis to children and developed a system for testing drug-use on roadways. Decisions about where and how marijuana should be sold, as well as how old adults have to be the purchase the drug, were punted to the provinces. Feds set a minimum age of 18 to buy marijuana, but said provinces could raise the age limit.
The Liberals noted at the time of the announcement that if jurisdictions did not put in place a regulated retail framework, individuals would be able to purchase cannabis online from a federally licensed producer with secure home delivery through the mail or by courier.
Trudeau’s spokeswoman Kate Purchase noted this would be modelled on the existing medical cannabis system that allows users to order online from federally licensed producers whose couriers verify identification and age at the door.
The proposed federal legislation is expected to come into force by July 2018.
Several provinces expressed concerns about various parts of the legislation, but many are already forming working groups to study the bill.
The prime minister also suggested Monday that once a legal system for cannabis is in place, his government would study what it could do to help ensure Canadians saddled with criminal records for previous pot possession are not treated unfairly.
“[O]ur focus is on changing the legislation to fix what's broken, about a system that is hurting Canadians like you, and then we'll take steps to look at what we can do for those people who have criminal records for something that is no longer criminal,” Trudeau told a young Torontonian named Malik, who worried his pot possession charge would prevent him from leaving the country.
Trudeau recalled a story told to HuffPost Canada in 2013 about how his late brother Michel, who died in an avalanche in 1998, had been in a car accident a few months prior to his death. Police had found a few joints and Michel was charged with possession.
“When he got back to Montreal, my dad said, 'OK. Don't worry about it.' He reached out to his friends in the legal community, got the best possible lawyer and was very confident that we were going to be able to make those charges go away,” Trudeau recounted.
“We were able to do that because we had resources, my dad had a couple of connections,” Trudeau said to laughter in the crowd.
"Our system will be accessible for all who do not have a system in their province."
“However, people from minority communities, marginalized communities, without economic resources, are not going to have that kind of option to go through and clear their name in the justice system and that is one of the fundamental unfairnesses of this current system — is that it affects different people differently.”
Still, the prime minister — who once smoked pot as an MP — stressed that until the bill is passed, marijuana use remains a crime.
Trudeau said he expects Canadians will choose to purchase cannabis through the legal and regulated system rather than buy it from “a shady character in a stairwell.”
No black market for beer: Trudeau
“There is no black market for beer, for alcohol,” Trudeau said. Yes, there is a black market for cigarettes but that’s because taxes are very high, the prime minister clarified. It is one of reasons, Trudeau said, the government wants to be careful on pricing.
Several cabinet ministers have noted the Liberals don’t want to tax pot too much to drive people away from the legal structures but they don’t want to make it too cheap either and encourage consumptions.
“It’s psychology,” Trudeau added.
“If someone has the option to buy something from a Hell’s [Angel] or to buy it from somewhere where it is regulated, and the quality is as good or better, people, a good citizen, will usually choose to buy in legal way,” Trudeau said.