By Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA – Manitoba’s finance minister says he’s feeling rushed by the Trudeau government’s July 2018 timeline for legalizing recreational marijuana and he wants more time.
Cameron Friesen said Monday that with the clock ticking there are still many unanswered questions on issues like public safety, enforcement and finding legal supplies of marijuana.
Provinces, he argued, are responsible for much of the work and the “very real” costs needed to create a regulated cannabis market.
Speaking in Ottawa before a federal-provincial finance ministers meeting, Friesen said he had already raised the idea of an extension with federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau.
Friesen didn’t reveal how much extra time he’s hoping for, but said he expected the issue to come up during the talks.
“In respect of a July 1, 2018, deadline, we’re concerned and we’ll express that upstairs — it feels rushed,” Friesen told reporters before entering the meeting.
“This is a very significant shift in how we’ll operate and we need to have that adequate time to develop the tools that we will need as a province to be able to implement this the correct way.”
Finance ministers from across the federation are meeting to discuss several economic issues, including how best to tax Canada’s forthcoming legal pot industry.
The federal government introduced legislation in April with a goal of legalizing and regulating the use of recreational pot by July 1, 2018.
Pot taxation is expected to stay low to ensure the regulated market squeezes out the illegal activity.
But lawmakers have yet to offer details on how tax revenues could be shared between provinces and the federal government.
Ottawa has signalled it would like to reach a “co-ordinated approach” with the provinces on cannabis taxation.
Provincial ministers have said they intend to push the feds to ensure they receive a share of pot-related tax revenue that fairly reflects the added costs provinces will have to assume on the road to legalization.
On his way into Monday’s meeting, Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa insisted he had yet to consider how much pot-related revenue his province could bring in because he’s been more concerned about ensuring legalization is handled properly.
“We’re going to be asking for fairness and flexibility, so that when there are some possible revenues that come from this that it’s properly shared,” Sousa said.
Quebec Finance Minister Carlos Leitao said he anticipated “an interesting and calm discussion” about cannabis.
“We want just to make sure that any system that is put in place is equitably distributed amongst the provinces,” Leitao said.
“The provinces are going to have to shoulder most of the costs of putting in place regulations, so we should also have most of the revenue.”
Friesen said a cannabis working group has been assessing the next steps on key issues like taxation, consumption, sobriety tests and public awareness campaigns.
“We can’t have a half-baked cake here,” Friesen said. “We have to make sure that all of this analysis is done.”
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— with files from Mylene Crete