NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh won't say one way or the other if a federal excise tax on marijuana is a good idea, but is accusing the government of having its pot priorities out of whack.
Singh was asked about marijuana several times at a press conference in Ottawa Wednesday, where he conceded he does not yet have a position on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's proposal to levy a federal tax on the drug once it becomes legal next summer.
Trudeau announced the proposal Tuesday after meeting with provincial premiers. The plan would mean each gram of pot would be subject to an excise tax of $1 on sales up to $10 and a 10 per cent tax on sales of more than $10. The federal government would split revenues with the provinces and territories.
Some premiers believe they should get a bigger piece of the pie because they will have to bear more costs for enforcement and regulations once pot is legal. Others raised concerns that taxing pot too much will only encourage people to buy from the black market.
When asked what he thought about the matter, Singh told reporters the federal government should have focused on decriminalizing marijuana, something federal New Democrats have preached throughout debates on the Liberals' legalization bill.
"The fact that we have a government that's talking about legalization that hasn't immediately decriminalized possession is completely offensive, completely unacceptable," Singh said. "Right now there are people that are currently being charged, being convicted and being imprisoned for an offence that will become legal."
Singh said decriminalization was something the federal government could have done immediately.
"Their priorities on this file are completely wrong," he said. "They've shown a lack of leadership in terms of how to move forward on this issue."
'It's a good question'
Singh was asked in French if provinces should keep 100 per cent of the excise tax that will be put on pot.
"It's a good question," he said, before again explaining his view that decriminalization should have been the focus.
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Singh was also asked if it concerned him that the black market could thrive if the government taxes marijuana.
"I haven't taken a formal position on this so I'll definitely refer to my team and make sure we come up with a clear position," he said. "And we'll let you know as soon as we have one."
I haven't taken a position on this particular file. And I'll definitely make sure I look into it and I'll have a response for you as soon as I can.
And as for the thorny issue of whether provinces should get more of a share of tax revenues than the federal government because they are responsible for more upfront costs, including policing and distribution?
"Again, a great question," Singh said.
"I haven't taken a position on this particular file. And I'll definitely make sure I look into it and I'll have a response for you as soon as I can."
During the leadership race, Singh called for decriminalizing possession of all drugs for personal use.
Singh announced at the press conference that he has tapped his former leadership rival, Quebec MP Guy Caron, to serve as the NDP's leader in the House of Commons. Singh, an Ontario MPP, does not hold a federal seat and has said he would be comfortable not seeking one until the 2019 election.
With files from The Canadian Press
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