Flammèches à la consultation pour hausser l’âge légal pour consommer du cannabis

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Seulement 2 % des clients de la Société québécoise du cannabis (SQDC) sont âgés de 18 à 20 ans, et 10 % ont entre 18 et 24 ans, a révélé mardi le ministre délégué à la Santé, Lionel Carmant.

Au premier jour des consultations publiques sur le projet de loi visant à faire passer de 18 à 21 ans l’âge légal pour consommer du cannabis, le ministre Carmant a tenu à « déboulonner » certains mythes « tenaces ».

Par exemple, selon lui, il est faux de prétendre que le gouvernement livrera les jeunes au crime organisé s’il rehausse l’âge légal à 21 ans.

Il est également faux, selon le ministre, de prétendre que la drogue vendue à la SQDC est « sans danger ». Sa concentration de THC peut atteindre plus de 20 %.

À une telle concentration, le produit augmente de manière spectaculaire les risques de psychose, un dérèglement physiologique qui peut conduire à la schizophrénie.

Le législateur a donc le « devoir » de retarder le plus possible l’âge d’initiation au cannabis, a-t-il plaidé.

M. Carmant s’est aussitôt buté au porte-parole libéral en matière de santé, André Fortin, qui, dans ses remarques préliminaires, a qualifié la consultation de « frime » et de « bâillonnement ».

« Je reste disposé à prendre en considération tout moyen qui nous sera proposé qui pourrait parvenir aux mêmes fins : tenir nos jeunes loin du THC », a soutenu le ministre.

Les deux hommes ont croisé le fer et causé des flammèches, M. Fortin dénonçant le fait que le gouvernement a refusé que certains groupes participent aux consultations publiques.

« Ce qu’on amorce aujourd’hui, c’est un exercice bidon, une frime, un bâillonnement des groupes qui veulent s’exprimer. Cette consultation-là elle est fausse, elle est limitative et c’est un exercice de relations publiques », a-t-il martelé.

Pour sa part, le député péquiste Sylvain Gaudreault a dénoncé le manque de cohérence du gouvernement. Pourquoi ne pas arrimer l’âge légal pour consommer du cannabis à l’âge de la majorité et à celui pour consommer de l’alcool, s’est-il demandé.

Sol Zanetti, député de Québec solidaire, a renchéri en disant que le projet de loi du gouvernement caquiste était tout simplement « infantilisant ». Les jeunes « ont un cerveau » et sont capables de réfléchir et faire des choix, a-t-il signifié.

Les centres de désintoxication Portage ont quant à eux fait savoir qu’ils accueillaient, bon an mal an, 500 adolescents de 14 à 18 ans.

De ce nombre, 88 % ont des problèmes de dépendance au cannabis, selon le vice-président, opérations et administration, Marc Berwald, qui appuie le gouvernement dans sa démarche.

« Nous sommes confrontés quotidiennement aux impacts dévastateurs de l’utilisation abusive du cannabis », a-t-il relaté.

De son côté, la Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec a plaidé pour que l’âge légal soit maintenu à 18 ans.

Rappelons que le projet de loi 2 inclut deux grandes mesures, soit le rehaussement de l’âge légal pour posséder du cannabis à 21 ans et l’interdiction de fumer la substance dans l’espace public.

Le gouvernement dit vouloir corriger l’impression que le cannabis est une substance récréative inoffensive et protéger davantage les jeunes de 12 à 24 ans contre les méfaits du produit.

Les consultations se poursuivent mercredi. La Fédération des médecins omnipraticiens du Québec, l’Institut national de santé publique du Québec, l’Association québécoise des programmes pour premiers épisodes psychotiques ainsi que la Ville de Gatineau sont attendus.

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Jody Wilson-Raybould was involved in legal government talks about fate of SNC-Lavalin, sources say

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Canada’s former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould was involved in government discussions last fall about whether engineering firm SNC-Lavalin should be allowed to avoid criminal prosecution, and the talks were perfectly legal, government officials have told The Canadian Press.

The officials said the government would have been remiss not to deliberate over the fate of the Quebec giant, given that a prosecution could bankrupt the company, putting thousands of Canadians out of work.

They spoke on condition their names not be used. CBC News has not independently verified the claims. 

Wilson-Raybould, currently minister of Veterans Affairs, said Friday she would not comment on claims that the Prime Minister’s Office tried to pressure her to help SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution in pending legal action against the construction company.

« As the former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada, I am bound by solicitor-client privilege in this matter, » she said.

The lobbyist registry shows representatives of SNC-Lavalin logged more than 50 meetings with federal officials and parliamentarians on subjects that included « justice » and « law enforcement. »

The Conservatives and NDP are demanding investigations by a Commons committee and the federal ethics commissioner into allegations Wilson-Raybould was pressured by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office.

Wilson-Raybould moved from being attorney general to minister of Veterans Affairs on Jan. 14. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Tory Leader Andrew Scheer also suggested Friday morning that his party is looking at pursuing unspecified « legal avenues » if the governing Liberals « continue to cover this up. »

The government denies the allegations that surfaced Thursday in a Globe and Mail report, but Wilson-Raybould’s continued refusal to comment on the matter has added fuel to the political fire.

SNC has previously been charged with bribery and corruption over its efforts to secure government business in Libya.

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Tories delete parody ad as Heritage Minutes contemplates legal action

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The federal Conservative party has deleted a political attack ad parodying the Heritage Minutes, after receiving a request from the organization that produces the historical TV segments.

The video, entitled  Liberal Scandals: Part of Our Heritage, was posted to leader Andrew Scheer’s Twitter and Facebook accounts Saturday night.

By the next morning, Historica Canada — the non-partisan organization that makes the videos — released a statement calling for the removal of the video. 

« While we often welcome parodies of the Minutes, we do not approve of them being used for partisan political purposes, » it reads. 

The video was deleted in the afternoon.

Anthony Wilson-Smith, the president and CEO of Historica, told CBC News he was advised of the video by his staff Sunday morning. He said the template in the final frames of the video appears to be an exact replica of their old branding. 

The Conservative spoof used similar styles of narration, graphics and historical photos to those in the official Heritage Minutes spots, but the Tory segment lashes out at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet for various ethical and conflict-of-interest breaches.

It details the prime minister’s breach of ethics laws for his vacation to the Aga Khan’s private island, the violation of conflict of interest rules by then-fisheries minister Dominic LeBlanc when he awarded a lucrative Arctic surf clam licence to a company linked to his wife’s cousin,and Finance Minister Bill Morneau stalling to disclose a private corporation that owns a villa in southern France that he shares with his wife.

‘Obliged’ to look at legal action in the coming days

Party spokesman Cory Hann told CBC News the party understood how it could be perceived as a real Historica creation. 

« We wouldn’t want it mistaken for a real production by Historica Canada, which typically showcase prouder moments in Canadian history, » he said. 

Hann added that an edited version that makes clear the ad is not a Historica production would be reposted later.

Watch: The deleted video of the Conservative’s Heritage Minutes parody

The Conservative Party created this attack ad version of a popular TV segment called Heritage Minutes. The company requested it be deleted, and it subsequently was. 1:00

But the removal of the video isn’t nearly enough recompense for Historica’s CEO. 

Wilson-Smith is asking for a full apology, but says he has not yet heard from the Conservative party. 

It’s the first time, to his knowledge, that Historica videos have been used for partisan activities, he said.

He said his organization has enjoyed a good relationship with all political parties for years, but this impacts the existing rapport with the Conservatives. 

To him, it puts Historica’s reputation on the line. Their funding — a mix of private and public money — would be in jeopardy if their messaging seems politically skewed one way or another, he said. 

If they don’t get the resolution they’re looking for in the coming days, Wilson-Smith says the organization will be « obliged » to explore legal options for copyright infringement and violation of intellectual property.

« It’s certainly something we can’t allow to just happen quietly, we would never want to see it happening again by any party. »

Heritage Minutes are 60-second short films depicting significant people and events in Canada’s history.

Some of the 90 episodes tell the stories of people such as author Lucy Maud Montgomery, Terry Fox, artist Emily Carr and Sir John A. Macdonald.

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Why legal cannabis growers can’t compete with the black market — yet

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Despite the persistent media buzz, there are no cannabis supply shortages in Canada, Brock University pot industry expert Michael Armstrong explains matter-of-factly.

“There’s all kinds of cannabis in Canada,” says Armstrong, who teaches operations management at the St. Catharines school. “It’s the legal cannabis that we’re short of.”

Nearly empty shelves at a Montreal cannabis store in December as supply shortages were felt in many provinces. One B.C. grower hopes to increase its production capacity from just under 10,000 kilograms to 480,000 kilograms annually by 2020.
Nearly empty shelves at a Montreal cannabis store in December as supply shortages were felt in many provinces. One B.C. grower hopes to increase its production capacity from just under 10,000 kilograms to 480,000 kilograms annually by 2020.  (Ryan Remiorz / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO)

And to successfully compete with a stocked and still-thriving illegal market, the country’s licensed cannabis producers must — among a series of moves — ramp up their crop outputs exponentially, offer cheaper, more varied strains and get them into a vastly increased number of stores.

“This is not a new industry, there is an existing industry,” says Armstrong, who analyzed new Health Canada data on the country’s marijuana market for a recent article. “What we have is this new legal version that has to compete with it.”

But that fresh player — who was only allowed into the game on Oct. 17 of last year — is not coming close to competing yet, Armstrong says.

Its primary problem out the gate was production. Armstrong says the Health Canada data suggests the country’s recreational cannabis market requires some 77,000 kilograms of product a month.

“That’s the existing black market, existing legal recreational buyers — that’s the estimate of the whole thing combined,” he says. “In November, roughly speaking, the legal industry produced about one-eighth of that amount.”

Clearly, legal growers have a long way to go to catch up with the ubiquitous pot farms and grow-ops that exist across the country, Armstrong says. The good news, he says, is that federally licensed production is increasing at a breakneck pace and that adequate legal supplies should be available countrywide by early next year.

Federal figures show the industry grew production by 12 per cent a month — compounded — in the first nine months of last year, Armstrong says.

Michael Armstrong says the Health Canada data suggests the country's recreational cannabis market requires some 77,000 kilograms of product a month.
Michael Armstrong says the Health Canada data suggests the country’s recreational cannabis market requires some 77,000 kilograms of product a month.  (Andrew Francis Wallace / toronto star)

“If that continues to grow at that compounded rate, which is really a madcap, frantic rate, they’ll actually have enough raw capacity in about a year.”

As greenhouses and converted factories spring up across the country, and even abandoned soccer bubbles are put to new uses, there are questions about whether that exponential production growth can continue, Armstrong says.

One large licensed grower is planning expansions on such whirlwind scales and beyond.

“We’re currently ramping up all of our facilities, both licensed and those in the licensing process,” says Andrew Grieve, CEO of Zenabis, based in Surrey, B.C.

Grieve says Zenabis is adding two facilities — in Langley, B.C., and Nova Scotia — to its two existing plants in New Brunswick and Delta, B.C. With those additional plants, coupled with planned expansions at its existing facilities, Zenabis hopes to catapult its production capacity from just under 10,000 kilograms to 480,000 kilograms annually by 2020.

“As a result we believe there will be producers, ourselves included, who are able to grow high-quality product and actually satisfy the recreational market in Canada,” Grieve says.

Industry expert Nick Pateras says the widespread carping over product shortages since the legal market opened was unwarranted given the predictable production lags that were forced on growers by simple economics.

Pateras, vice-president of strategy at the cannabis resource and information company Lift & Co., says the licensed producers could not have been expected to build enough stockpile or capacity for day one when they had no revenues to cover those costs.

“That’s a pretty big ask to have them grow it … and sit on it for months and months,” he says. “I think (the supply shortage) was always going to happen.

But Pateras says he’s confident production will scale up enormously.

“I think that you are going to see a ton of production capacity come online” in the next two to three financial quarters, he says. “So within a year that supply demand imbalance that we see now will have narrowed greatly.”

Most industry watchers think product shortages will greatly ease over the coming months. Pateras, however, believes that true production needs may have been underestimated, given the high percentage of raw crops that will be demanded by the edible and beverage products hitting the Canadian market next October.

He says offerings like pot-infused gelatins and beer — which together could attract 60 per cent of the market — require far more plants to produce a desired amounts of THC or CBD than combustible products. “It’s a pretty inefficient production process,” Pateras says.

He adds that industry production growth forecasts are often spotty, and notes that many Canadian producers are looking to export some of their wares and that crop loss is often a wildcard factor.

Brock’s Armstrong stresses that these are far from the only challenges the legal industry will face in its push to displace the black market. “The next trick is taking that raw material and getting it into final-product form and out to the retailers,” he says. “That appeared to be one of the bottlenecks in November.”

Michael Armstrong says that with the mass increase in shipping volumes that producers faced in October, many also experienced logistics problems in transporting, testing and warehousing their products.
Michael Armstrong says that with the mass increase in shipping volumes that producers faced in October, many also experienced logistics problems in transporting, testing and warehousing their products.  (Steve Russell / toronto star)

Armstrong says that with the mass increase in shipping volumes that producers faced in October, many also experienced logistics problems in transporting, testing and warehousing their products. He also says producers and retailers have to put much more work into assessing which products and strains are most popular with consumers and adjust appropriately.

In comparison with the black market, however, price, quality and access — along with increased policing — are going to be key, Armstrong says.

The stick of more and increased legal perils for black-market sellers will surely help the sanctioned industry make headway, he says. Provinces have vowed to boost enforcement of the illegal trade while the federal criminal code sets out harsh sentences, especially for anyone selling to minors.

“I think the main emphasis has to be on the carrot side,” Armstrong says.

Aside from formulating the most desirable and consistent products — something legal producers can do better with laboratory backing — growers and regulators must make cheaper products available to complement high-end wares, he says.

“Governments so far have kind of talked about $10 a gram including taxes, (and) that’s not going to cut it very well against the black market that’s charging $5.50 or $6.50,” Armstrong says.

“It doesn’t have to be all cheaper, but if you can at least have a value brand (so) people can say, ‘I’m not saving any money going to the black market why not go legal?’ ”

Armstrong says the industrial-scale operations legal growers will build will give them and advantage over their furtive, underground counterparts in offering cheaper goods — should regulators allow them to go on sale.

Grieve says his company is intent on offering such cheaper alternatives if allowed.

To compete with underground dealers, many of whom offer customer loyalty discounts and pizza-like delivery times, the legal market must also open far more stores, Armstrong says. While product shortages have limited initial store openings in Ontario to 25, for example, this province needs 1,000 or more stores to be competitive, Armstrong says.

Armstrong says producers must also be freed from the draconian advertising and promotion restrictions Health Canada’s legalizing regulations have imposed.

While regulators have a duty to limit the use of a product with known health and public safety risks, producers need some latitude to compete, Armstrong says.

Current rules limit virtually any advertising and promotion and insist on plain packaging with minimal product information and a tiny producer label.

“But if you really want to get people to switch, you’ve got to explain why, you have to make a sales pitch,” Armstrong says. “And that’s something industry is really going to struggle with.”

Joseph Hall is a Toronto-based reporter and feature writer. Reach him on email: gjhall@thestar.ca

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Canada’s chronic shortage of legal cannabis expected to drag out for years

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Canada’s persistent shortage of legal cannabis could drag on for years. The impending legalization of edible pot will only divert more product away from empty store shelves across the country. One industry insider said he now expects that shortage to endure until 2022.

« If it was just the current product set, I’d say a year to 18 months, » said Chuck Rifici, CEO of the Toronto-based cannabis company Auxly.

« But because we have edibles and a bunch of new product types coming in October, I think it’ll be the better part of three years before we have true equilibrium and oversupply in the space. »

Licensed producers have been adding capacity in droves. Millions of square feet of new greenhouse space has been built since last summer. But for every new gram produced, new demand is piling up as well.

« The medical cannabis market still grows by about five per cent a month, » said Rifici. « We have about 300,000 Canadians accessing medically, so that’s a drain on the system, as well as international exports that are starting to amplify. »

Edibles industry ramps up

Meanwhile, the edible cannabis side of the industry is only starting to ramp up. The makers of Corona beer and Kim Crawford wines teamed up with Canopy Growth and expect to roll out cannabis-infused beer and wine. Budweiser partnered with Tilray, and Molson-Coors created their own joint venture with Quebec-based Hexo.

Cannabis-infused food and drink promises to open a whole new segment of the market. A recent report by Deloitte found 49 per cent of probable cannabis users in Canada are willing to try edibles. But that growth comes with a whole new batch of regulations and expectations.

It may take as many as three years before licensed producers are growing enough to supply the recreational, medicinal and edible markets. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Health Canada will require strict rules around shelf life and refrigeration. There will be specific rules around doses per serving. And that’s where Kevin Letun and Pacific Rim Brands hope to step in. His company has partnered with labs at the University of British Columbia in Kelowna and the British Columbia Institute of Technology to dig into the science behind all that.

« Because this is a brand new consumer product and it’s utilizing a schedule-1 drug that’s been illegal for the last 80 years, consumers are going to want to trust the brand that they’re going to be trying in the future, » said Letun.

Right now, Pacific Rim Brands is working on getting the specific formulations for these products. Once that’s completed, the company expects to start human testing to gather data. Essentially, the company is aiming to have formulations ready and approved this summer.

« Then, our goal is to look to either license these to existing beverage companies, potentially licensed producers or even develop our own brands, » said Letun.

When the legal recreational market opened on Oct. 17, 2018, stores like this one in NWT quickly sold out of product. (Hilary Bird/CBC)

Letun said edibles will prove to be a much larger segment of the industry than the current smokeable pot.

« In the next ten years, you’re going to see the smokeable cannabis (comprising) maybe only 10 to 20 per cent of the market, » he said.

He expects edibles and infused drinks will take off once legalized. And he said that will go well beyond cannabis-infused beer and wine.

« There are so many other applications on the medicinal side too, when it comes to sleep aids or sports recovery when it comes to inflammation, pain, sports recovery. »

Public consultations into the legalization of edible cannabis are open now and are expected to conclude at the end of February. As rules become more clear, the summer will see another surge on demand as companies look to get products ready for a market expected to open up on October 17.

It has only been three months since cannabis was legalized in Canada. There’s something to be said for the fact that the highest profile issue to stem from such an enormous change in drug policy is a lack of supply.

That issue is moving toward resolution, perhaps more slowly than expected. 

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BC Hydro lineman fired over legal pot grow-op wins back job

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A BC Hydro lineman who was fired after being accused of stealing electricity to feed a cannabis grow-op on his property should get his job back, the Labour Relations Board has found.

The board recently upheld the decision of an arbitrator, who found BC Hydro had failed to prove that employee Lawrence Petersen had covertly installed a transformer and second electrical line to feed the operation on his Comox Valley property.

And Petersen actually had a licence from Health Canada to grow medical marijuana for sick family and friends, the board heard.

Petersen was fired from his job as a power line technician on June 27, 2013, after an internal investigation prompted by a tip from police, who suspected he was involved in illegal grow-ops at multiple sites.

His union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, grieved the dismissal, and in an August award, arbitrator Wayne Moore said he found Petersen’s defence more believable than his bosses’ claim that he was stealing electricity.

« In the final analysis, BC Hydro had little basis, beyond speculation, for this allegation. It follows that I find the employer has not met its onus to provide clear and cogent evidence with respect to a diversion or theft of power, » Moore wrote.

The arbitrator found that Petersen was entitled to reinstatement without loss of wages, seniority or benefits, a decision upheld by Labour Relations Board vice-chair Andres Barker on Nov. 30.

‘Unsatisfactory’ evidence from BC Hydro investigator

BC Hydro’s case largely relied on evidence from investigator Barry Hurrie, a former police officer who looks into electricity theft and power diversion for the utility.

But Moore described Hurrie’s testimony as « unsatisfactory in a number of ways, » describing him as overly confident, defensive and sometimes aggressive, and unwilling to consider facts that conflicted with his theory of what was going on.

« It was apparent from the outset that, when he received information from the RCMP in March 2011, he was predisposed to believe that the grievor was guilty of marijuana related offences, » Moore wrote.

Petersen testified that the property had two power lines when he bought it in 2007. (CBC)

The BC Hydro investigation found Petersen’s property wasn’t serviced by the transformer listed in the utility’s database. Instead, it was using a more powerful transformer that was missing a serial number.

But other employees testified that BC Hydro’s records were unreliable, and the transformer installed at Petersen’s property wasn’t unusual.

Hurrie also submitted an image taken from Google Street View in October 2011 that appeared to show just one electrical line to Petersen’s property. Hurrie said that when he visited four months later, there were two lines.

But a Google Street View image taken from a different angle in 2009 showed two lines. A contractor who visited the property testified that he noticed two lines when he visited the property in 2010, and Petersen said they were already there when he bought the land in 2007.

Finally, BC Hydro alleged that Petersen had violated policy by not disclosing that he was growing cannabis under a licence from Health Canada. As it turns out, however, Health Canada had advised licensees not to reveal grow-op locations for security reasons.

« Accordingly, I find that this ground for discipline should also be rejected, » Moore wrote.

Though BC Hydro appealed Moore’s award, arguing it was right to fire Petersen, the Labour Relations Board found that the utility had been given a fair hearing and the decision was in line with provincial regulations.

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Hosting a party on the first Christmas with legal weed? Here are some things to remember – National

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Marijuana wasn’t invented on Oct. 17, 2018, of course.

But the appearance of respectable weed, perhaps bought from the government, changes the dynamic a bit for this year’s holiday parties, the first after legalization.

Managing alcohol, our age-old frenemy, has always been a headache at this time of year for those who are organizing parties. Managing cannabis at the same time adds a few new wrinkles.

Here are some things to remember:

Nobody should mix alcohol and marijuana

“As a host, you have to be very, very wary of that,” says Andrew Murie of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. “When you mix it, you get the worst of both of those drugs. They sort of play off each other.”

“That’s probably, as a social host, one of your greatest risks. Somebody has two or three drinks, but if they mixed it with cannabis, you have no kind of judgment of how intoxicated that person is.”

WATCH: Celebrate the holidays without alcohol by making mocktails






Be very wary of homemade edibles

Factory-made edibles won’t be sold until some time next year — but with THC-infused oils, you can certainly make your own.

But it’s hard to consistently dose edibles you make yourself in a kitchen, Murie says. Not only can people end up consuming much more than they intended, the high might not kick in for hours.

“If you made a panful of brownies, did you equally distribute the THC throughout the pan, or is there one section that most of the cannabis ended up on?” Murie asks. “That’s a pretty common mistake.”

“Whoever gets that end of the pan is extremely intoxicated. They kick in two hours later. You have a couple of drinks, you eat a brownie, and then two or three hours later, you’re really intoxicated.”

Be very wary of homemade edibles (and other forms of cannabis) and teens

The federal Cannabis Act carries fierce penalties — up to 14 years in prison — for providing someone under 18 with cannabis.

Whether leaving cannabis brownies around for an unsuspecting — or curious — teen to eat counts as “providing” is a question the courts will have to wrestle with, but we’re assuming you don’t want to be the test case.

“I think hosts are at a huge risk allowing minors to get intoxicated under their care,” Murie warns. “If something goes wrong, I think the courts would have no mercy on them.”

WATCH: Mandatory impaired-driving laws to hit the roads before the holidays






Impaired driving is the obvious danger, but there are others

If there’s an outdoorsy component to your party, do it before the psychoactive substances come out, Murie says.

“If you have cannabis and alcohol and then you go skating or something like that, or tobogganing – that’s another one. Things can happen.”

“Those are the ones where you run into a lot of trouble as a host, especially if you haven’t taken a lot of care. If you’re going to do those activities, they should be done well before there’s any partaking.”

Pay attention, and don’t overindulge yourself

“You want to know what people are consuming,” Murie says. “[Hosts] should stay fairly sober as well so that they can monitor their guests. If they get intoxicated, don’t let them fend for themselves. You have a responsibility, both legally and morally, to take care of them.”

“It’s the same thing as for alcohol – you should be aware of your guests’ consumption.”

WATCH: Being a responsible host during the holiday season






And have a backup plan if people shouldn’t drive

Uber, taxis, transit, staying over — all are ways of getting people who shouldn’t drive to not drive.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Toronto, other cities say costs of legal cannabis will leave them millions of dollars short

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Toronto Mayor John Tory, who heads Ontario’s largest municipality, said the staff has estimated cannabis legalization will put the city on the hook for “tens of millions of dollars” in additional policing, paramedic, fire, public health and other costs.

“And the number that they said they were going to give us was, I guess, we get $3 million,” and a similar amount after that, said Tory, whose council voted Thursday to allow cannabis stores to open shop in the city starting April 1. Late Thursday, the province announced it would only issue 25 licences across Ontario for business at first, blaming national supply issues.

“It clearly is not enough to cover all our costs.”

Tory said in an interview the city’s position has been that the provincial and federal governments should pick up all of Toronto’s extra cannabis expenditures.

“We didn’t change the law (federally) and we didn’t set up the regulatory regime provincially,” he said. “Therefore property taxpayers should not bear this cost.”

Under current plans, municipalities will share — on a per-household basis — in the $40-million Ontario Cannabis Legalization Implementation Fund, set up to offset their pot-related costs over the next two years.

The fund, which will ensure that even the smallest municipality gets at least $5,000, was sliced from a $100-million grant the province received from Ottawa to help transition into the legal pot era.

Municipalities thatallow cannabis stores to open shop will get another similar grant later in 2019.

After that two-year period, municipalities will share half of any revenues generated by Ontario’s portion of the federal excise duty, should these exceed a total of $100 million over the next two years, provincial finance ministry spokesperson Scott Blodgett said in an email.

“We would like to be very clear … municipalities must use this funding to address the costs that directly relate to the legalization of recreational cannabis,” Blodgett said.

These would include any increased enforcement costs for police and public health and court agencies, he said.

Blodgett said the provincial funds would also partially cover costs related to increased use of 311 phone inquiry lines, fire and paramedic services as well as cannabis-related training for municipal workers.

In addition to excise revenues, Ontario will keep its standard 8-per-cent portion of the federal/provincial HST charged on online and store sales. The size of this cannabis pot will depend on the number of stores that eventually open across the province, Blodgett said.

“Provincial tax revenue is directed to the Consolidated Revenue Fund and is used to meet the priority needs of Ontario families such as health care, education and infrastructure,” he said.

Read more:

Mississauga says no to cannabis

Toronto opts in

More distance urged between shops, schools

But Blodgett said that only municipalities that opted to allow pot stores will be eligible for any of the provincial funding beyond the initial payment. Municipalities have until Jan. 22 to say no to the stores, otherwise they must allow them in any number and almost any location that retail is permitted. (The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario will have sole discretion over the number and placement of the stores, which can’t be within 250 metres of schools.)

King Township Mayor Steve Pellegrini said the relative pittance smaller municipalities would get from the province in the per-household formula is one of the main reasons he rejected stores.

“We’ve got 9,000 households in … the largest municipality in terms of area” in York region, Pellegrini said. “We have more roads and everything to patrol, but with a very limited population, and I would get next to zero,” said Pellegrini, whose council voted unanimously to reject the stores.

He said the $5,000 minimum the province will give all municipalities — the only payment his opted-out community will receive — is “a joke” and would not put a dent in any town’s extra cannabis costs. “That’s insulting. That’s not going to get me anything.”

Toronto police spokesperson Caroline de Kloet said the force is still calculating what its increased cannabis costs might be.

But just north of the city, the numbers have been crunched. York Regional Police estimated those costs would soar to some $7.7 million annually by 2021, said Jeffrey Channell, manager of financial services.

That would amount to $6.41 for each region resident for police services alone, Channell said, adding that many of the estimates were based on research in Colorado and Washington state, where cannabis has been legally sold for nearly five years.

But current provincial funding for all of the region’s increased cannabis costs over the next two years — including to public health and paramedic services — is only $1.40 annually per person, he said.

The force’s increased spending would arise out of some 26 changes and requirements brought on by legalized cannabis. These include roadside testing and its required equipment; increases in criminal and motor vehicle accident investigations; a team to combat any ongoing black market sales; and a new impaired-driving co-ordinator.

Colorado and Washington research suggests the main front-line policing impacts “are around impaired driving, traffic stops, seizures, drug violations, increases in motor vehicle collisions and injured persons,” he said.

Channell said tax revenues in Washington state were much higher than expected and that the federal and provincial governments might have much more money to pass down to the municipalities than currently anticipated.

That state’s $460-million (U.S.) cannabis revenues last year would translate into $3 billion (Canadian) over this country’s population if similar sales levels were seen here, he said.

“That’s three times any official Canadian estimate of excise taxes.”

But Channell said every significant police organization in the country — including the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police — has advocated for proper cannabis-related funding from senior governments.

York police Chief Eric Jolliffe said the region’s property tax base should not be responsible for any extra costs for his force.

“Both the federal and provincial governments are collecting revenues from the sale of cannabis and we have been repeatedly assured we will receive funding to help offset these costs,” Jolliffe said in an email. “As of now, we have only received a small fraction of the costs we have incurred for up-front training.”

In fairness, Tory said, many of the estimated cost hikes for police and other services may never materialize.

“For example, the volume of (311) phone calls we’re receiving at the moment is lower than expected,” he said, adding that expected increases in 911 calls have also failed to materialize.

“I’m prepared to have a little while where we actually see what the experience is. But I think it’s safe to say that as of this moment, the money they have committed to us is less than whatever our costs will be.”

Tory said estimates of extra pot costs the city would face would be above and beyond those the force incurred while policing and prosecuting cannabis crimes during prohibition, which ended Oct. 17.

Association of Municipalities of Ontario president Jamie McGarvey figures any money is better than none, but says civic leaders should monitor their cannabis-related costs closely.

“We’re going to be dealing with (any fallout costs) anyway so my own personal feeling is we’re better to opt in, because at least we’ll get some extra funding,” said McGarvey, who is also mayor of Parry Sound.

McGarvey — whose group helped lead negotiations over the funding split with the province under the former Liberal government — said Queen’s Park held all the cards during those talks.

“I think we tried to get as much as we could for the municipalities but that is totally on the call of the province,” he said. “They’re the ones controlling the pot, no pun intended.”

Tory said that in talks, the province has shown some sympathy for the idea the municipalities should not bear the bulk of extra costs. “They have accepted the principle that we shouldn’t be put to a lot of extra expense.”

Tory said municipalities have no way to force the province to up the ante, besides dogged lobbying.

“I’m not going to be satisfied with hope,” he said. “But my plan B would be to continue advocating,”

Joseph Hall is a Toronto-based reporter covering cannabis. Reach him on email: gjhall@thestar.ca

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Meng Wanzhou is out on bail — but could be in legal limbo for years

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Meng Wanzhou says she hasn’t read a novel in 25 years.

As the lawyer for Huawei’s chief financial officer told B.C. Supreme Court Justice William Ehrcke Tuesday, the 46-year-old has been too busy raising a family and helping her father grow his company into a global telecommunications giant.

Defence lawyer David Martin said his client practically welcomes the constraints Ehrcke considered before granting her $10 million bail under strict supervision: more time to spend with her daughter, to catch up on her love of literature — and who knows, maybe even to consider getting her PhD?

Meng, who was arrested in Vancouver at the request of U.S. officials, is accused of violating international sanctions against Iran through a « hidden » Huawei subsidiary called Skycom.

U.S. prosecutors claim she put American banks in legal jeopardy by lying about the relationship between the companies, inducing them into « carrying out transactions that they otherwise would not have contemplated. »

Meng Wanzhou left B.C. Supreme Court in downtown Vancouver around 8 p.m. local time, nearly five hours after the judge delivered his decision. (CBC)

The U.S. wants to see her extradited.

But if the legal precedents Ehrcke considered in granting Meng her freedom are anything to go by, she may have time to finish War and Peace, Anna Karenina and the complete works of Marcel Proust before her extradition odyssey is done.

« This has been an unusual case, » the judge said as he wrapped up the day, which drew crowds so large the sheriff had to set up televisions in the lobby. 

The proceedings spoke to a number of Vancouver stereotypes: a part-time yoga instructor, a real estate agent, an insurance salesperson and a homemaker all came together as last minute sureties to guarantee the freedom of a woman whose father with an estimated worth of $3.2 billion US.

And all of this on a day with torrential rain.

Left holding the bag

In considering bail, Ehrcke had to balance Meng’s risk of flight against the guarantees of friends who put their own property on the line as sureties.

He considered the examples of Rakesh Saxena and Lai Changxing, two men who fought long battles against extradition.

It took 13 years before Saxena was deported to Thailand, where he was jailed for fraud.

And Lai — once considered one of China’s most wanted men — fought deportation for more than a decade before being sent back to face charges of bribery and theft.

Both men lived under house arrest and were eventually freed pending the resolution of their cases. Saxena was placed under house arrest again after violating the conditions of his release.

Lai Changxing fought deportation from Canada for years. His case was one of the examples the judge considered in granting bail to Meng. (Chuck Stoody/Canadian Press)

Ehrcke also considered the case of Michael Wilson, an accused fraudster, who — like Meng — was wanted for extradition to the U.S. and who — also like Meng — had multiple sureties step forward.

But Wilson fled to Vietnam with two of those guarantors in a bid to escape justice, leaving the other two holding the bag.

Wilson’s actions cost one of them $200,000. The friends who stepped forward for the Huawei CFO could be on the hook for as much as $3 million if she flees.

‘Myriad’ reasons to avoid the U.S.

Meng was arrested just over a week ago on a provisional arrest warrant as she passed through Vancouver International Airport en route to Mexico, Costa Rica, Argentina and France.

Prosecutors claim the fact she hasn’t stepped foot in the United States since 2017 is proof she’s avoiding possible arrest in that country.

But Ehrcke rejected that argument, pointing out that people have « myriad » reasons for avoiding the United States in the past two years.

U.S. President Donald Trump chats with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Tensions between the two countries have been rising. (Andy Wong/Associated Press)

The judge didn’t mention Donald Trump’s name — but the tense relationship between the U.S. president and China’s leadership has simmered in the background from the moment Meng first stepped foot in court.

« There’s a larger macro struggle going on between the United States and China, » Martin told the court during his client’s first appearance — proceedings to which the CBC News has since listened.

Many of the people who packed the courtroom for three days running questioned the timing and motive of the arrest. They applauded Ehrcke’s final decision and some congratulated Meng’s husband as he left the courtroom.

Supporters decried the allegations and one man walked outside the courthouse and shouted, « We love Huawei. »

Patience and time

The arrest of a Canadian in China on the same day that Meng’s release was to be decided increased the air of intrigue.

And Trump’s assertion that he might intervene in the case against Meng if it would help national security interests or close a trade deal with China only helped reinforce the sense that the case may ultimately be decided in Washington and Beijing, not Vancouver.

For now, though, Meng is confined to a strict radius of locations in Vancouver, Richmond and parts of North and West Vancouver.

She’ll pay for round-the-clock shifts of security guards to watch her every movement — sworn to arrest her if she breaches the terms of her parole.

She’ll swap her green prison sweats for an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet.

And she’ll finally get to pick up a book. To paraphrase War and Peace, she may learn that patience and time are the strongest warriors of all.

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Âge légal: après le cannabis, l’alcool?

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Après avoir indiqué mercredi qu’il aurait souhaité que l’âge légal pour consommer du cannabis soit établi à 25 ans, le ministre Lionel Carmant a laissé entendre jeudi qu’il aurait mieux valu fixer l’âge légal pour consommer de l’alcool à 21 ans, soit trois ans plus tard que maintenant.

Dans deux entrevues accordées jeudi, le ministre délégué à la Santé et aux Services sociaux a remis en doute le bien-fondé de la limite actuelle. « Je pense que [si c’était à refaire pour l’alcool], avec toutes les données qu’on connaît, peut-être que 18 ans ne serait pas le bon âge. »

Mais devant la presse parlementaire, il a par la suite mis de l’eau dans son vin. « Je ne crois pas qu’on va faire un débat actuellement là-dessus, a-t-il précisé. Pour le cannabis, la décision est beaucoup plus récente, je crois que c’est plus acceptable de discuter [de l’âge légal] pour le cannabis. » Le ministre a déposé mercredi le projet de loi 2, qui fera passer de 18 à 21 ans l’âge légal pour consommer du cannabis au Québec.

« L’alcool est quand même une substance toxique qui a des effets néfastes, a ajouté M. Carmant. On veut protéger tous nos jeunes. L’âge légal est à 18 ans, mais il y a des jeunes de 16-17 ans qui s’en procurent facilement. »

Et avoir une limite à 21 ans pour l’alcool aurait changé quoi à tout ça ? « On ne dit pas que ç’aurait été préférable, mais on dit que c’est quelque chose qui aurait peut-être [dû être] considéré. »

La question du cannabis a monopolisé une partie des débats de la période de questions de jeudi. Pour sa part, Manon Massé (chef parlementaire de Québec solidaire) s’est demandé si « on est en train de retourner à l’idéologie conservatrice des années 1950. Ça m’inquiète », a-t-elle dit après avoir relevé les commentaires de Lionel Carmant sur l’alcool.

« Les jeunes ne doivent pas consommer du cannabis, c’est dan-ge-reux », a rétorqué le premier ministre François Legault pour défendre son projet de loi. « Soyons cohérents : l’objectif est de convaincre les jeunes de ne pas en consommer. Ça passe avant faire des profits, ça passe avant faire la guerre au crime organisé. »

D’autres détails suivront.

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