Health minister says government will table legislation to legalize marijuana in spring 2017

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      Canada’s health minister has given marijuana advocates a reason to rejoice this April 20, the date of the world’s annual celebration of cannabis.

       "We will introduce legislation in spring 2017 that ensures we keep marijuana out of the hands of children and profits out of the hands of criminals,” Jane Philpott said at the United Nations in New York.

      The minister revealed the news while delivering a prepared speech at the UN’s first major international conference on illegal drugs in 18 years.

      “While this plan challenges the status quo in many countries, we are convinced it is the best way to protect our youth while enhancing public safety," Philpott continued. "Canada will continue to modernize our approach to drug policy. Our work will embrace upstream prevention, compassionate treatment, and harm reduction.

      “We will work with law enforcement partners to encourage appropriate and proportionate criminal justice measures. We know it is impossible to arrest our way out of this problem. Addressing problematic drug use is a shared challenge. The solutions are also collective, involving governments, indigenous peoples, civil society, youth, scientists, and key UN agencies.

      “I acknowledge that other countries and cultures will pursue approaches that differ from Canada’s. I believe that if we respect one another’s’ perspectives and seek common ground, we can achieve our shared objective: protecting our citizens. Better yet, we can improve their lives.”

      Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected last October after promising to legalize recreational marijuana.

      On February 24, he appointed Bill Blair, parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice and former Toronto police chief, to head the legalization process.

      Since then, advocates for reform have grown increasingly critical of Trudeau for what they’ve described as little action on the marijuana file.

      That criticism intensified when on March 1 Trudeau signaled that police should continue to arrest people for marijuana possession. “The laws haven’t changed yet,” Trudeau said in Vancouver during an interview with News 1130. “Pot is still illegal in this country and will be until we bring in a strong regulatory framework.”

      Philpott signalled the government was preparing to take more concrete steps on marijuana legalization during an interview with CTV News conducted earlier in the week.

      “We, very soon, will be announcing a task force that is going to review a number of questions,” Philpott said. “We’ve developed a series of questions that we will be putting to the task force. And stay tuned, there is going to be much more news on that very soon.”

      An April 20 media release includes additional details about Philpott's trip to the UN. It suggests the new Liberal government aims to treat illicit-drug abuse as a health issue as opposed to a criminal matter.

      "The Government of Canada believes that to be effective, drug policy must be grounded in evidence and fully respect human rights while promoting shared responsibility," reads a statement attributed to the minister. "It requires collaborative action and a strong emphasis on public health that includes upstream prevention, compassionate treatment, harm reduction and support for recovery."

      The United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem runs from April 19 to 21.

      Meanwhile, in Vancouver, some 20,000 people are expected to gather at Sunset Beach today (April 20) for the city's annual 4/20 cannabis festival and protest.

      For nearly two decades, the event was held on the north side of the Vancouver Art Gallery. This year, it has relocated to the north end of the Burrard Street Bridge in order to better accommodate the large crowd.

      Despite leaders of Vancouver's marijuana community—including Jodie and Marc Emery, Dana Larsen, and Jeremiah Vandermeer, among others—having embracing the move, a smaller group has said it will hold a separate 4/20 event on the south side of the Art Gallery. That group, led by founder Robert Moore, has set up tents on Robson Street.

      The city, which welcomed the larger event moving to Sunset Beach, has deployed police to both events. In an interview earlier this week, VPD Const. Brian Montague told the Straight how officers police both events is dependent on the actions of those in attendance.

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