Alberta Premier Rachel Notley speaks during the final press conference at the Council of Federation meetings in Edmonton Alta, on Wednesday. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Premiers want more clarity from federal government on legalizing cannabis

EDMONTON — Canada’s premiers say the federal government needs to provide more clarity as they work to craft rules on legalizing marijuana — or Ottawa will face a call for a delay.

“It’s great that the prime minister wants to stick to his deadline. That’s super-duper,” Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said Wednesday at the closing news conference of the leaders’ annual summer meeting.

“He needs to then hear what the premiers of his country — our country — have said we need help with. There are a number of significant and serious public policy issues here. They need to be addressed. They should be addressed co-operatively.”

The federal government plans to pass legislation that would legalize cannabis as of July 1 next year.

The premiers have formed a working group to identify common concerns, seek answers from Ottawa and to provide recommendations by November on how to move forward.

It is up to the provinces to develop rules in their jurisdictions on how cannabis will be distributed and sold, what public places it will be allowed in and what the minimum age to buy it should be.

Pallister on Tuesday pushed for a one-year delay given what he called the sheer amount of work and unanswered questions over how legalized marijuana could affect Canadians.

In the end, the premiers did not call for a delay, but said in a closing communiqué that the provinces might ask for an extension if Ottawa does not help them resolve the issues of distribution, safety, taxation, justice and public education.

“We’ll work to the deadline, but as things stand right now there is work that also needs to be done by the federal government in order for us to meet it,” said Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.

“It has not yet been done.”

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said the issues are critical.

“The starting point is: Have we met the public safety concerns? Are we sure that we have the provisions in place to protect youth (and) do we understand what the highway traffic implications are?” she said.

“We have to make sure that we can keep people safe.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked at a stop in Quebec City if there is any flexibility to the July 1 deadline. He replied that the goal is still to have the law passed by next summer.

He said right now young people have easy access to marijuana when they shouldn’t and criminals and streets gangs are making millions through illegal sales.

“We need to put an end to this policy that does not work,” Trudeau said. “We are continuing to work with the provinces to make sure the framework will be in place a soon as possible.”

The Canadian Association of Chiefs Of Police on Wednesday concluded a national conference in Montreal where president Mario Harel warned that organized crime won’t simply withdraw from the marijuana market when recreational cannabis becomes legal.

Harel said extra funds will be needed for equipment and to train officers to detect drug-impaired drivers.

Harel, who is police chief in Gatineau, Que., suggested about 2,000 such experts will be needed and estimated there are about 600 across Canada now.

During their two days of meetings, the premiers also discussed upcoming talks with the U.S. to renegotiate NAFTA.

They resolved to continue their harm reduction approach to fighting the opioid crisis, to work together on a national pharmacare plan and to revisit minimum sentences and hire more judges in light of the Supreme Court’s decision that cases must be tossed out if they are overly delayed.

The meeting went ahead without B.C. Premier John Horgan, who was not sworn into that province’s top job until Tuesday.

The next premiers meeting is set for next July 18-20 in New Brunswick.

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