by Phil Ambroziak

Athabasca NDP MLA Buckley Belanger wants to know what the provincial government was smoking when it recently announced details regarding Saskatchewan’s cannabis legalization plan.

“For a couple years now, everyone has known this legislation is coming, but the current government has not been prepared in any way, shape or form to mitigate things… they’ve just been sitting on their hands, which is typical of this government,” Belanger said. “I just don’t believe they have given it much thought.”

Earlier this month, the province released the remainder of its framework around cannabis legalization, including details about the legal age of consumption and information on where people will be able to purchase pot. Highlights include 19 being the minimum legal age for cannabis consumption, limiting four cannabis plants per household, limiting 30 grams of cannabis per consumer and making 51 retail cannabis permits available in 32 communities. According to Belanger, however, more could have and should have been done.

“The NDP agrees with the age restriction of 19 years, not consuming cannabis in public is another good idea, as is the government’s outlook on impaired driving while under the influence of marijuana,” he noted. “But, by and large, the process itself has been flawed in terms of little to no public consultation with First Nations or other communities. That was the government’s first error. Now they’ve been caught flat-footed.”

By this, Belanger added, he wonders where current dispensaries fit into the grand scheme of things.

“There are already some places where medicinal marijuana and whatnot can be purchased, but none of these have been grandfathered in with this new legislation,” he said. “The Sask. Party government has just been ill-equipped and did not do its work.”

On the other hand, even though Meadow Lake MLA Jeremy Harrison isn’t necessarily a fan of marijuana legalization, he does believe his government has gone above and beyond to accommodate the impending change.

“I’ve said it before – on a top 10 list of issues I would like to see the provincial government dealing with right now – the legalization of marijuana probably ranks at about number 20,” Harrison said. “But, we have no option but to deal with it now because the Government of Canada is moving ahead with legalizing cannabis. So, we’re looking to deal with this matter in a responsible fashion.”

Although the province is uncertain as to when the drug will actually become legal, he said the government is still preparing for the original July 1 target date.

“We’ll just have to wait and see if the bill passes by then,” he added. “But, for now, our focus continues to be on the safety of Saskatchewan’s people, particularly young people. That’s our number one concern. Public consumption of marijuana will be prohibited, and there will be zero tolerance for drug-impaired driving. The police will continue to lay charges with regard to this – whether cannabis is legal or not – and the minimum age to purchase the drug will be 19. A lot of the restrictions and regulations currently in place for alcohol will apply to marijuana.”