Federal health minister says conversations with her own kids convinced her changes are required
By Susan Lunn, CBC News
The federal health minister says "the world is going to be looking to Canada to make sure we do the job well" when it comes to legalizing and regulating marijuana.
In an interview with CBC News, Jane Philpott said the government will look abroad for best practices, but said she doesn't see a perfect model anywhere.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigned on the legalization and regulation of marijuana for recreational use, and has mandated Philpott, along with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, to create a federal-provincial-territorial process to accomplish that.
Philpott said the government will create a task force to consult with legal authorities, public safety officials and Health Canada scientists, who already have a role in regulating products with health risks such as tobacco.
Scientists in her department have already started to brief her on the topic, she said.
Philpott, a family doctor, has four children, including one who is a teenager. She said she tries to have open conversations with all of them about a range of health issues, including marijuana.
Those conversations have convinced her the current system of prohibition and criminalization is not working.
"I think if any of your viewers, if they ask their teenage children, they can verify for them that [marijuana] is far too accessible. And obviously there's issues around safety and concentrations that are available in certain products are very dangerous," Philpott said.
"Often the products are not pure, and that's something that's a serious health concern for us."
Philpott said it is too early to speculate on what kind of restrictions will be placed around the sale of marijuana, such as an age limit — but she said her government is committed to keeping it away from teenagers.
"It's extremely important to me as a young parent and as a [health-care] provider to make sure we keep marijuana out of the hands of kids and young people, whose brains are developing. And at the moment, unfortunately, it's extremely accessible," she said.
Pot in corner stores?
The Opposition Conservatives did not respond to a request for comment Friday on what they want to see in the government's legislation.
But during the election campaign, the Conservatives were critical of the Liberal plan, telling voters it would lead to marijuana being sold in corner stores, where teenagers could get their hands on it easily.
— Chris Brown (@CBCChrisBrown) September 25, 2015
Trudeau said he didn't think corner stores would be the best place to sell marijuana, suggesting staff weren't always rigorous enough in checking ID.
(The industry association that represents convenience stores noted at the time it hasn't advocated for the right to sell marijuana, though it wasn't happy with Trudeau's characterization of its members' handling of age-restricted products.)
Philpott said most health-care providers are not opposed to the Liberal Party's plan on marijuana.
"I would say they are cautious about this, as I am. We need to be cautious about it," she said. "But I think most thoughtful Canadians recognize that the current system isn't working and they're looking to us to make sure we make a wise decision."
The Canadian Medical Association declined to comment, saying only "we acknowledge the complexity of the issue and the varying perspectives."
DENVER — A new national study says that for the first time it has found the majority of Americans support marijuana legalization, adding new weight to efforts to legalize pot across the country.
Voters in four states, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, along with Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational marijuana possession and use, and legalization advocates have their sights set on Vermont and Rhode Island this year.
Californians next year are widely expected to decide whether to legalize recreational pot, expanding the state's large medical marijuana marketplace.
The new General Social Survey says its poll taken last year revealed that 51.7% of Americans thought marijuana should be legalized, with 41.7% opposed and 6.6% undecided. In 2012, the last time the same question was asked, just 43.3% of Americans supported legalization, according to GSS authors at the National Opinion Research Center, who have been conducting surveys since 1941.
"It's a classic tipping point, where we have the majority of Americans supporting it," said Tom W. Smith, the director of the GSS, and a senior fellow at NORC at the University of Chicago. "While there's people still opposed to it, there have not been horror stories about Colorado falling apart. Even those who don't want to take a toke themselves don't see it as a gateway drug and reefer madness. There are fewer people buying into that."
In a statement, the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project said the survey reflects Americans' acknowledgement that marijuana has been safely used for decades despite being illegal. Legalization advocates say states and the federal government should stop prosecuting marijuana users and instead focus their attention on more harmful substances.
"Marijuana has been a relatively prominent part of American culture for decades, and that's never going to change," said Morgan Fox, spokesman for Marijuana Policy Project. "Either we continue to force it into the underground market or we start regulating it and treating it like other products that are legal for adults. Federal and state officials who are clinging to marijuana prohibition need to get over it and allow society to move forward."
Legalization skeptics say the national support for marijuana obscures the reality that many local voters oppose having pot shops in their neighborhoods.
Kevin Sabet, executive director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which was co-founded by former congressman Patrick Kennedy, said there's a difference between perception and reality when it comes to marijuana. In Colorado, for instance, even though there are more than 300 licensed marijuana stores, some of the state's biggest cities, including Colorado Springs and Golden, have barred retail pot sales.
"It's tough for teachers, social workers, and scientists to get their message out in the face of Big Pot's PR machine — which is able to promise tax revenue and an end to cartel violence," Sabet said via e-mail. "There continues to be a wide gap between what science knows and what the public perceives about marijuana. And the last time I checked, scientists were pretty bad at publicizing their findings.
"Though advocates won in three states last November, they lost in 26 out of 31 localities that were voting on whether or not to allow pot shops in their neighborhood. That tells me that legalization in theory gets more support than legalization in practice. And the irony is that the more Big Marijuana tries to lean in on communities, I think the more likely it is we will see a backlash. That may take some time, but we are in it for the long haul."
WASHINGTON -- The United States government took a historic step back from its long-running drug war on Thursday, when Attorney General Eric Holder informed the governors of Washington and Colorado that the Department of Justice would allow the states to create a regime that would regulate and implement the ballot initiatives that legalized the use of marijuana for adults.
A Justice Department official said that Holder told the governors in a joint phone call early Thursday afternoon that the department would take a "trust but verify approach" to the state laws. DOJ is reserving its right to file a preemption lawsuit at a later date, since the states' regulation of marijuana is illegal under the Controlled Substances Act.
Deputy Attorney General James Cole also issued a three-and-a-half page memo to U.S. attorneys across the country. "The Department's guidance in this memorandum rests on its expectation that states and local governments that have enacted laws authorizing marijuana-related conduct will implement strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems that will address the threat those state laws could pose to public safety, public health and other law enforcement interests," it reads. "A system adequate to that task must not only contain robust controls and procedures on paper; it must also be effective in practice."
The memo also outlines eight priorities for federal prosecutors enforcing marijuana laws. According to the guidance, DOJ will still prosecute individuals or entities to prevent:
- the distribution of marijuana to minors;
- revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels;
- the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states;
- state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity;
- violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana
- drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use;
- growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands;
- preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.
The eight high-priority areas leave prosecutors bent on targeting marijuana businesses with a fair amount of leeway, especially the exception for "adverse public health consequences." And prosecutors have shown a willingness to aggressively interpret DOJ guidance in the past, as the many medical marijuana dispensary owners now behind bars can attest.
U.S. Attorneys will individually be responsible for interpreting the guidelines and how they apply to a case they intend to prosecute. A Justice Department official said, for example, that a U.S Attorney could go after marijuana distributors who used cartoon characters in their marketing because that could be interpreted as attempting to distribute marijuana to minors.
But the official stressed that the guidance was not optional, and that prosecutors would no longer be allowed to use the sheer volume of sales or the for-profit status of an operation as triggers for prosecution, though these factors could still affect their prosecutorial decisions.
The Obama administration has struggled with the legalization of medical marijuana in several states. Justice Department Officials had instructed federal prosecutors across the country not to focus federal resources on individuals who were complying with state laws regarding the use of medical marijuana. But the U.S. attorneys in several states that had legalized medical marijuana rebelled, and what was known as the Ogden memo faced stiff resistance from career prosecutors.
"That's just not what they do,” one former Justice official told HuffPost. “They prosecute people."
As a result of the internal pushback at DOJ, a new memo was issued by Deputy Attorney General James Cole in 2011 that gave U.S. attorneys more cover to go after medical marijuana distributors. Federal prosecutors began threatening local government officials with prosecution if they went forward with legislation regulating medical cannabis.
After recreational marijuana initiatives passed in Washington and Colorado in November, President Barack Obama said the federal government had “bigger fish to fry” and would not make going after marijuana users a priority.
Holder said back in December that the federal response to the passage of the state ballot measures would be coming “relatively soon.”
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson told HuffPost his office was preparing for the “worst-case scenario” of a federal lawsuit against the law.
UPDATE: 6:15 p.m. -- Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), who'd been pressing Holder to make a decision and respect the will of the states' voters, applauded the move, saying in a statement that "the Justice Department should focus on countering and prosecuting violent crime, while respecting the will of the states whose people have voted to legalize small amounts of marijuana for personal and medical use." He had previously scheduled a hearing on the issue for Sept. 10.
At issue will be how the U.S. Attorneys will implement the directive. John Walsh, the lead prosecutor for the District of Colorado, has previously aggressively interpreted guidance from Justice higher-ups and targeted medical marijuana dispensaries that were not accused of breaking any state laws, like those that were operating near schools. His reaction Thursday to Holder's announcement might not give Colorado business owners much confidence that he intends to modify his approach.
"Of particular concern to the U.S. Attorney’s Office are cases involving marijuana trafficking directly or indirectly to children and young people; trafficking that involves violence or other federal criminal activity; trafficking conducted or financed by street gangs and drug cartels; cultivation of marijuana on Colorado’s extensive state and federal public lands; and trafficking across state and international lines," Walsh said. "In addition, because the Department of Justice’s guidance emphasizes the central importance of strong and effective state marijuana regulatory systems, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to focus on whether Colorado’s system, when it is implemented, has the resources and tools necessary to protect those key federal public safety interests. To accomplish these goals, we look forward to closely working with our federal, state and local partners."
Via Huffington Post