Politicians spark up on marijuana debate

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May 17, 2016 9:44 AM

A pair of local politicos have voiced their disagreement following an announcement by the feds that marijuana will be legalized by 2017.

Battlefords-Lloydminster MP Gerry Ritz said he thinks it’s a bad idea, especially until there can be workable methods for testing whether or not a person is high.

Ritz also cited negative impacts in the states of Colorado and Washington — both of which have already legalized the drug—for helping him form an opinion about legalizing pot.

“I think it’s absolutely ridiculous to go down that route until we have a comprehensive method of testing for under the influence,” he said.

“We can do breathalyzers for alcohol, but there’s no significant testing or anything workable now for being high.”

Cst. Grant Kirzinger of the Lloydminster RCMP agreed with Ritz’s sentiment and confirmed there is no breathalyzer to detect marijuana.

According to Ritz, domestic disputes are up in Colorado, as are traffic accidents.

He said kids are showing up at playgrounds with marijuana, and that there have been cases where pets died after eating their owners’ stashes.
“There’s just a lot of unanswered questions, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what the legislation looks like, but legalization is not the answer until you have all of those types of questions answered,” he said.

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott announced last month that legislation to legalize marijuana would be ready within a year, while speaking to the UN at a special session of the General Assembly in New York.

“We will introduce legislation in spring 2017 that ensures we keep marijuana out of the hands of children and profits out of the hands of criminals,” she said.

“We will work with law enforcement partners to encourage appropriate and proportionate criminal justice measures. We know it is impossible to arrest our way out of this problem.”

An aspect of the federal announcement that remains murky is the exact scope of legalization intended.

Whether it’s just decriminalization or complete and total legalization, Ritz, like the rest of the Canadian public, is unsure.

He said a number of police chiefs around the country are also unsure about what problems they’ll have to deal with next spring, like who’ll be allowed to sell and buy the drug.

“Of course the provinces would have to be involved and how are you going to sell it? How are you going to chase down those who are selling it illegally?” Ritz asked.

“It’s just something I don’t think needs to be done or should be done at this point.”

The announcement was handed down federally, but as Ritz pointed out, it’ll be up to the provinces to regulate marijuana when the legislation is passed.

There are no federal entities that have the capacity to take care of an issue like this, so, much like alcohol, it’ll be the provinces that develop their own frameworks regarding marijuana.

Dr. Richard Starke, MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster, said there’ll be many other provincial implications and echoed Ritz with the problem about driving impairment.

“We know that, of course, driving under the influence of alcohol is a terrible cause of many injuries, fatalities, countless amounts of property damage,” Starke said.

“And of course, driving under the influence of drugs—even drugs that are designated as being legal as is the case of marijuana—would require there be some form of roadside assessment and further testing of subjects, and I think that’s of one concern because it’s part of the highway traffic act that would be part of provincial designation.”

Starke also raised the valid point of how the issue would affect Lloydminster —being Canada’s only true border city—and how both provinces would approach the issue.

There are already differences in how Saskatchewan and Alberta regulate alcohol, with one side of the city having a legal drinking age of 18 and Saskatchewan’s being 19.

Starke admits the problems aren’t insurmountable, as the city has dealt with them for a number of years, but it’s something Lloydminster is going to have to deal with when the time comes.

Mayor Rob Saunders was asked for his thoughts on the legalization of marijuana, but refused to comment.

But Starke said the issue will undergo much review.

“There are a lot of laws that are going to have to be looked at and no doubt amended,” Starke said.
“Some of those laws have a very direct impact on provincial legislation.”

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