‘It’s Not an Event, It’s a Process’: MP Bill Blair Talks Cannabis Legalization

(Courtesy of Global News)

Bill C-45 to legalize cannabis in Canada is entering the home stretch. In the meantime, provinces are preparing their distributors, growers, police, and the public to roll out legal cannabis in polite, Canadian fashion when the light finally turns green.

This includes Bill Blair, Liberal MP, and Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministers of Justice and Health, who’s currently on a country-wide, town-hall tour fielding cannabis question from Canadians. Last week, The West Block interviewed Blair about what he’s heard from Canadians so far and how legalization is shaping up as it approaches the finish line. Here are five takeaways:

Blair anticipates the Government will announce an official ‘buy date’ within eight weeks of the Cannabis Act attaining Royal Assent.
  1. Canadians want to know exactly how legalization will work.

Canadians, though well informed, want to be assured that implementation will be orderly, and many are wondering how cannabis will be packaged, promoted, and distributed in their province. Here, the Secretary highlighted the importance of the government’s public education campaign, especially when it comes to educating and preparing parents teachers, doctors and (particularly) kids. In addition to attending town halls, Blair mentioned he’s been meeting with local law enforcement, school boards, and indigenous communities to help them prepare.

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  1. The police will be ready to fight organized crime and impaired driving.

Law enforcement has a lot of questions about access to training, resources, and technology that will help them adapt, and Blair confirmed that all of the laws and tools that police currently have will be retained and complemented with new tools and resources designed to beat back the illicit market. In regard to impaired driving, Blair affirmed that the government is making sure that law enforcement has the training, and that drug recognition experts have access new technologies, new authorities, and standardized tools for sobriety testing. Blair did not indicate what those technologies or authorities might be, but said that the bill reflects police input.

Blair reiterated that cannabis labelling is and will remain dull so as not appeal to young people.
  1. Kids’ safety will be a perennial priority.

“Our number one policy goal is to keep this out of the hands of kids, and to displace the illicit market, and not to promote the use of this drugs,” said Blair. Setting nd adhering to minimum-age requirements for purchase and possession will serve as the first line of defence in protecting youth from accessing cannabis. Behind that, the government’s $108 million public education campaign stands at the ready to provide young people with information about the health and social risks of cannabis. When asked about packaging and the comically simple Ontario Cannabis Store logo, Blair reiterated that labelling is and will remain dull so as not appeal to young people.

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  1. Legalization is one thing, retail sales are another.

MP Blair wants Canadians to remember that cannabis legalization “is not an event, it’s a process,” and that means planning for orderly implementation nationwide. While July 1 was never the government’s target “buy date”, Blair said they have always aimed to legalize by July of 2018. Once Bill-C45 is tweaked by the Senate Committee it will face a vote in Parliament on June 7. If approved, the bill will receive Royal Assent, after which Canadians will have to wait another eight to twelve weeks while the government, producers, and distributers prepare to sell. Though Blair did not provide an exact timeline, he anticipates the Government will establish and announce an official ‘buy date’ within eight weeks of Royal Assent.

The cannabis industry will not be permitted the same free-range marketing and sponsorship opportunities as the alcohol industry.
  1. Celebrity endorsements and “lifestyle branding” are strictly verboten.

The law is clear: There can be no celebrity endorsements or “lifestyle” advertising of cannabis and cannabis products. Blair noted that the cannabis industry will not be permitted the same free-range marketing and sponsorship opportunities as the alcohol industry, but will be strictly promoted to adults who want to “make a healthier, socially responsible choice to obtain [cannabis] from a legitimate source.” (As for the celebrity endorsement ban, at least one Canadian LP is hoping to get around it by making its celebrity an employee.)

Watch Blair’s full interview with The West Block here.