MLA concerned over proposed cannabis legislation

HALIFAX: A local MLA is concerned that the province’s plan for dealing with legalized cannabis will put young people at risk.

The Cannabis Control Act, which will set the rules for the sale and use of cannabis in the province, passed its second reading on April 5. Last week, Inverness MLA Allan MacMaster questioned Justice Minister Mark Furey in the legislature on the impact the changes will have on young people.

“One of my main concerns is how the government is communicating the changes they’re making in response to the legalization of cannabis,” MacMaster told The Reporter.

“I don’t think that it sends the right message to young people for them to be suggesting that the measures they’re taking are for the safety and protection of Nova Scotians, especially youth.”

MacMaster said he disagrees with the government’s plan to set the legal age to purchase cannabis at 19.

“There is evidence that has been brought to us by the Nova Scotia Association of Psychologists that says cannabis can harm people’s brains as they’re developing. That can go up until the age of 25, and for a certain percentage of people it can trigger psychosis,” said MacMaster.

He also feels the rules governing the public use of cannabis are not strict enough. Under the proposed legislation, the use of cannabis in public spaces will be governed under a strengthened Smoke-free Places Act. The amended act will allow the use of cannabis in some public places, but it will be prohibited within 20 meters of certain areas such as public playgrounds, recreational facilities and parks.

“People are not allowed to consume alcohol while walking down the street, but when it comes to marijuana, they’re following tobacco rules more than alcohol rules,” said MacMaster. “With the legislation they’re putting forward, people will be able to consume marijuana out in the public. That normalizes the use of cannabis, and I don’t think that is going to be helpful.”

MacMaster said the prevalence of illegal tobacco products is proof that legalization will not put an end to the illegal cannabis market.

“Whether people buy cannabis from an illegal dealer, or whether they buy it from the government, for some people, there’s no such thing as safe marijuana, and I don’t think the government should be marketing their changes as for the benefit of the safety of Nova Scotians,” he said.

Justice Minister Mark Furey responded to the criticism by saying the legislation is not meant to encourage the use of cannabis, but to provide quality control and oversight of the product.

“We presently have an illegal, illicit market, where the quality and the content of that product is unknown,” said Furey.

Furey added that the sale and use of illegal cannabis already has a significant detrimental effect on young people in the province.

“The reality is, we have to put a framework in place that enhances public safety, educates on the consumption of these products, and consistent with efforts of the smoking cessation strategy, going forward, reduces consumption,” said Furey.

MacMaster said The Cannabis Control Act is expected to receive its third reading in legislature this week.