By Trevor Busch
With roughly six weeks counting down to the federal government’s appointed date for cannabis legalization on Oct. 17, regional politicians are still hearing concerns from citizens and municipalities in the lead up.
Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter feels the legislation will not achieve what it is purported to be targeting, namely keeping the substance out of the hands of the nation’s young people.
“First of all, it’s now in October, we’ll see if that changes. That’s the first question, is if it will actually happen in October or not. Let’s just say it does. One of the biggest concerns that I’ve always had is, number one, is how is it going to affect our young people? It’s designed to keep it out of the hands of young people. It’s not, and we need to do a better job to keep it out of young people’s hands.”
Bow River MP Martin Shields is sympathetic to the plight of many local municipalities struggling to finalize their bylaws in time for legalization.
“While meeting with constituents, I’ve met with a number of councils. One council is up against it in the sense of timeline, they may have to have an emergency meeting to get the thing (specific bylaws) in place before October 17. That’s what they’re working on, is trying to get all of the things in place for their land use, for their bylaws, so that it can move forward.”
Hunter is skeptical that the testing methods related to impaired driving will be effective enough to register convictions in a post-legal environment.
“Number two, is how do we police it? If someone is driving intoxicated or high, is there a way or a test to see that they’re over the limit? Now, from what I understand, there’s something come out — a saliva test — that the federal government expects to be approved. So maybe there is a roadside saliva test that they can use that will give them the information that they need.”
Proper training in this area is key, says Shields, who isn’t confident that law enforcement will be able to grapple effectively with this challenge in the short term.
“From the policing side, it’s the amount of expertise to be able to do the testing that’s now said can be used, and how many people in the police forces are able to do the testing of the impaired piece, and that again is a challenge in order to have enough qualified people to do that. So police forces are challenged as well.”
While training is important, Shields also sees a potential legal quagmire on the horizon if the legislation and testing methods are challenged in the courts.
“I think we’re going to see a lot of court challenges, just like we did with the breathalyzer. We’re going to see a lot of court challenges that will lead us to one place or another with whatever mechanism is being used, and those appeals will go on for some time. So I think we’re going to see a lot of legal challenges happen.”
Random drug testing by employers in Canada is being reviewed in the courts, an aspect Hunter views as a positive development.
“That’s the other thing, is how do we ensure that people aren’t actually doing things that are unsafe, whether it be in the workplace or on the roads. In the workplace, legally we’re not allowed to do random drug testing. I know that some of the companies are testing that in the courts, saying if people are coming to work high and they’re putting other people’s health at risk, then we need to do random drug testing. They are now trying to fight that to say, yes, we should be able to have the right to do random drug testing.”
Hammering out municipal bylaws has been a hit and miss prospect in many municipalities, including Taber, which recently saw cannabis amendments to its Land Use Bylaw shot down by town council at second reading in a 3-3 tie vote in mid-July, leading the town back to the drawing board.
“Taber’s got a situation — the vote that happened in Taber was a tie vote, which was lost,” said Shields. “Again, this has put municipalities in a place where they’re up against the timelines really hard, and it’s making it difficult to get it done. But they’re going to try to get something in place. So that’s one of the issues that I see and hear, is municipalities trying to get everything in place to cover all the legal aspects that involve them. So that’s a challenge from that side.”
Hunter has been witnessing similar concerns from municipalities throughout the Cardston-Taber-Warner area.
“For them, one of the points is where do we allow these to be opened up, what kind of public consumption there should be. Every municipality is different in my riding.”