The provincial government has done Nova Scotians a disservice when it comes to the legalization of cannabis.
Following consultation with Nova Scotians, health experts, law enforcement officials, municipalities, and other stakeholders, the province announced key decisions about the legalization of cannabis on December 7. These decisions follow the federal government’s decision to legalize recreational cannabis by July 2018.
The key policy decisions on cannabis are a legal age of 19 for use, purchase and possession, and distribution and sales will be on-line and in existing Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation (NSLC) stores. Details of on-line sales and the location of retail stores will be announced later.
Justice Minister Mark Furey explained that the NSLC has the experience and expertise to distribute and sell restricted products, and is best positioned to keep cannabis out of the hands of young people.
The province accepted federal legislation outlining the following restrictions: a personal possession limit of up to 30 grams; a personal cultivation limit of up to four plants per household; and the establishment of provincial penalties for youth possession of up to five grams.
The provincial government said a legal age of 19 brings Nova Scotia in line with Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick. All provinces that have announced their legal age, with the exception of Manitoba, have chosen to align with their legal drinking age.
Furey said the province’s top priority is the health and safety of Nova Scotians, particularly young people. He said the policy decisions announced earlier this month, and those yet to come, were also informed by the experience of other jurisdictions, like the State of Colorado.
The province plans to make additional announcements about the legalization of cannabis as decisions are finalized. Government will continue to review the feedback it received through consultation as it develops the plans and strategy going forward.
In October, the province conducted public consultations on the legalization of cannabis. “A What We Heard” document, which summarizes the findings of 31,000 completed on-line surveys and stakeholder meetings and submissions, can be found at: www.novascotia.ca/cannabis.
It was encouraging that the province offered Nova Scotians the opportunity to voice their opinions and offer their feedback, but they didn’t actually listen.
Had they taken public input seriously, the provincial government would have instituted a private model.
While on the surface it appears that the NSLC is the safest and easiest option to sell and distribute cannabis, the experiences of other jurisdictions do not bear this out.
Currently, there are private dispensaries operating successfully around North America, including hundreds in Canada. While the private model is not perfect, it is a far better choice than the NSLC.
Perhaps the most significant reasons are that the private model encourages entrepreneurship, especially among young people, and facilitates private-sector growth, which are badly needed in Nova Scotia. The private model, which was supported by the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative caucus, also provides long-term employment and entices investment, which are among the main reasons why half the provinces and territories are considering this approach.
The NSLC model guarantees revenues do not go into communities, but into the NSLC’s coffers. It is also questionable how many jobs will be created through the NSLC, or whether current staff will have the opportunity to work more hours in different locations.
It is also questionable that the NSLC can or will do any more to keep cannabis out of the hands of young Nova Scotians than private dispensaries. Under strict rules, enforcement and oversight, private stores are just as safe. This decision also defies one of the federal government’s main recommendations that alcohol and cannabis not be sold together.
Then there are the unfounded health concerns. Since dispensaries currently get their products from the same distributors the NSLC will be using, how can the province claim this is a healthier option or that the private option is less safe?
The sale and distribution of cannabis is also very different from that of alcohol, simply due to the differences between the substances. Cannabis can be ingested in a variety of ways and comes in a variety of forms, like edibles, not at all comparable to the experience of booze.
Then there are the concerns expressed by former Nova Scotia Finance Minister Graham Steele, who oversaw the NSLC when he was part of the Darrell Dexter NDP government. With the NSLC currently turning a corner and starting to operate as it should, he is correct in asking whether this is the best time to spring cannabis on them.
With the NSLC taking over cannabis, will this mean less access? If the province establishes a set number of cannabis outlets, many communities will not have access, which only makes more money for those selling cannabis illegally. The on-line option is unavailable to those without Internet connections and computers, and comes with a wait time.
The provincial government had the opportunity to be bold, to meet the promises of the Ivany Commission, to inject economic life into the province, to encourage young people to open businesses and contribute to their communities, and to allow rural areas to grow.
This opportunity has been lost for an option that is not safer, nor healthier, and less beneficial economically.