OTTAWA — The federal Liberal government on Tuesday rolled out the latest phase of its legalized-pot plans: a five-year, $36.4-million campaign to help teach Canadians — especially the younger ones — about the health and safety risks associated with using marijuana.
The money is coming out of a $526-million envelope for marijuana legalization announced in last week's fall economic update, Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor and Toronto MP Bill Blair, the government's point man on legalizing pot, told a news conference outside the House of Commons.
"We have never indicated that we are promoting the use of marijuana," Petitpas Taylor said.
"We want to ensure that Canadians, and youth in particular, have access to the information that they need with respect to risks associated with cannabis use."
Public education up until now has focused in large part on consequences of breaking the law, Blair added, suggesting legalization will allow parents, teachers, health professionals to have conversations with young people.
Tuesday's announcement is in addition to a five-year, $9.6-million allotment included in the last federal budget. The campaign will be expanded once legalization takes hold to help explain how the new laws work, Petitpas Taylor said.
The federal Liberals insist they're still committed to passing that legislation by July 2018, although the Opposition Conservatives, health care experts, a number of provinces and police have raised concerns about the ambitious goal.
The government is wedded to an arbitrary timeline for no good reason, said Conservative health critic Marilyn Gladu.
"It is definitely rushed," said Gladu, who described the handling of the file as typical of the Liberals: grand promises and poor execution.
"Everybody thinks this bill is flawed, whether they are cannabis activists, currently in the distribution area or in the policing force or in the provincial and municipal authorities."
Alistair MacGregor, the NDP's deputy justice critic, agreed the government is moving too fast.
"We ... want to be cognizant of the fact that we want to make sure we get this right and all of the levels of government that are involved are comfortable with it," MacGregor said, describing the idea of an awareness campaign as too little, too late.
"We are still worried about the fact provinces and territorial governments are going to have to take on heavy responsibilities to bear the burden of legalization, which includes health care and enforcement."
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