Trudeau reminds us: marijuana dispensaries still illegal

Prime minister visits Greater Victoria; goes on five-kilometre run with military at CFB Esquimalt, meets with Victoria mayor

Until the federal government legalizes marijuana, dispensaries operating in Victoria and Vancouver are illegal, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday during a visit to the capital region.

“We are hoping to bring in legislation before the summer, we’re working very hard on the excellent report put forward by the task force on marijuana. But I cannot stress enough that until we have a framework to control and regulate marijuana, the current law applies,” he said.

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He made the comments at a press conference while visiting CFB Esquimalt, after he and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan joined military personnel for a five-kilometre run and a tour of the base.

Trudeau said regulating the sale of marijuana will keep it out of the hands of young people and stop criminal gangs from capitalizing on a multi-billion-dollar industry.

“Right now, we know that young people have easier access to marijuana than just about any other illicit substance. It’s easier to buy a joint for a teenager than it is to buy a bottle of beer. That’s not right,” he said.

“Secondly, we know criminal organizations and street gangs are making billions of dollars off of the sale of marijuana. We feel that regulating it, controlling it will bring that revenue out of the pockets of criminals and put it into a system where we can both monitor, tax it and ensure that we are supporting people who are facing challenges related or unrelated to drug use.”

Victoria has followed Vancouver’s lead in regulating marijuana dispensaries, requiring pot shops to apply for a rezoning application and a business licence. About 35 marijuana dispensaries are operating in Victoria, none of which has a business licence.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said pot shops did not come up in her meeting with the prime minister at City Hall on Thursday afternoon. “Personally, for our city and our region, I think we have much better things to talk about than cannabis,” Helps said.

“We are doing the best we can with the resources available to us, which is our zoning bylaws and our business-licence bylaws.”

Helps said her sit-down with the prime minister was warm and positive.

In half an hour, they covered everything from the Belleville ferry terminal and Crystal Pool project to housing and the opioid crisis. “This was the first time a prime minister has visited City Hall since 1965 and I think the best outcome was I feel there’s the beginning of a relationship,” she said.

“He was really receptive to the innovative approach we’re taking to housing,” she said, referring to the program in which the capital region borrows $30 million and the province matches it.

“I let him know we have an ask to the federal government for another $30 million and he said, ‘Wow, this could be a model for across Canada,’ ” Helps said.

She said, however, that Trudeau did not make any promises for the B.C. capital.

“Prime ministers, just like mayors, don’t make commitments on the spot. He has his cabinet that makes decisions. He’s empowered his ministers. So today wasn’t about getting to decisions, today was about beginning a relationship,” Helps said.

They did collide on one topic.

“We talked about oil tankers and I said: ‘As you can see our residents here are opposed to oil tankers and city council is opposed to oil tankers,’ and we agreed to disagree on that,” she said, referring to protesters outside.

Trudeau approved Trans Mountain’s Kinder Morgan pipeline and Enbridge’s Line 3 but rejected the Northern Gateway pipeline.

On the Kinder Morgan pipeline approval, Trudeau said his government’s position is that “the environment and the economy need to work together.”

He said it’s important that Canada gets it resources to market “responsibly, thoughtfully and sustainably.”

The government has signed a pan-Canadian framework on climate change that puts forward a concrete plan to reduce emissions and cap oil-sands emissions, he said.

Trudeau said he’s aware that increased tanker traffic poses a risk to the southern resident killer whale pod. “The existing tanker traffic and ship traffic is of significant challenges to them,” he said, adding that the oceans protection plan will aim to protect vulnerable marine mammals.

About 300 people gathered outside City Hall to see the prime minister.

“Trudeau skipped Victoria on his town halls and we think he has a lot of questions to answer for,” said Charles Campbell from the Dogwood Initiative.

Sue Andrews was among many in the crowd angry about his support for the Kinder Morgan pipeline. “Why would he endanger thousands of jobs that rely on a pristine coast?” she asked.

Robin Gannett and Gina Nickoloff, both 20, voted for the first time in the last federal election and said they were disappointed by the prime minister’s lack of action on climate change.

“It’s super disheartening to see that elected officials don’t stick to their promises,” Gannett said.

However, Kate Stark, who waited in the rain for a selfie, said Trudeau “is the first prime minister to give us hope for a long time.”

Trudeau will be in Vancouver today, where he will participate in a discussion on opioids with first responders and health-care professionals.

When asked by reporters on Thursday, the prime minister said he has no plans to legalize other illicit substances.

He said he has a “tremendous amount of respect” for first responders and community organizers who are on the frontlines of the “incredibly difficult crisis that is right now upon us, not just on [Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside] but right across B.C. and spreading across the country.

“We are moving forward on a framework to regulate and control marijuana. … and we are not planning on including any other illicit substances in the movement towards legalizing and controlling and regulating.”

Trudeau said the federal government has contributed $10 million to help B.C. address the opioid crisis. The last time he spoke with people struggling with addiction in Vancouver, they expressed their desire to see longer opening hours at safe consumption sites, he said.

“We continue to monitor very closely what’s happening in B.C. This is an issue that we are taking very seriously and we will continue to engage in it. Certainly, we hope the $10 million we’re sending to B.C. will allow for an improved response to this ongoing crisis.”

kderosa@timescolonist.com

spetrescu@timescolonist.com

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