Atlantic premiers concerned about weed supply, push Ottawa to expedite licensing
Keith Doucette, THE CANADIAN PRESS
Published Monday, December 11, 2017 6:22PM AST
Last Updated Monday, December 11, 2017 6:40PM AST
HALIFAX -- Atlantic Canada's premiers say they are worried about obtaining an adequate supply of weed as they prepare to meet Ottawa's July 1 deadline for legalized marijuana.
The four premiers called on the federal government to expedite the licensing of suppliers following a meeting of the Council of Atlantic Premiers Monday in Halifax.
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil made it clear that ensuring an adequate supply is Ottawa's responsibility.
"It's their timeline, their permitting -- it's their responsibility to ensure the supply is here," said McNeil. "What we're going to do is to make that we're going to meet our commitments in terms of making sure this product becomes legal."
Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball said although his province inked its first production agreement last week, that alone won't make product available until 2019.
Prince Edward Island Premier Wade MacLauchlan said ensuring supply is key given the current risks associated with many illegal and illicit drugs across North America.
"It's absolutely critical right now ... that the cannabis people buy from our four governments is going to be of reliable quality. That it's not going to be crooked, or poison, or kill you -- that is a huge public health issue right now."
Nova Scotia first voiced its concerns about supply last week, after it announced it would set the legal age at 19 and sell pot alongside alcohol in provincial liquor commission stores.
The province said its preference is to use Nova Scotia production facilities, although only two have so far received approval from Health Canada to grow pot and they still aren't licensed to sell.
McNeil warned about the black market that could fill any gap: "Not only does the price matter, if we can't supply it (pot) someone else will."
The premiers said the four provinces would try to come up with a common price per gram. McNeil said they want to avoid the cross-border issues that currently plague alcohol sales.
New Brunswick's Brian Gallant said a delicate balance needs to be struck.
"If we have a price point that is too high we're unfortunately going to see people continue to go to the black market. And if we see a price point that is too low perhaps it's a bit of an incentive for people to use it more than we would want and maybe it's even that much more accessible for youth."
Gallant said any final price should be driven by "who is going to bear the cost" of implementation, pointing out that the 50-50 split of tax revenue initially proposed by Ottawa wasn't going to do that.
Later Monday, Ottawa agreed to give the provinces and territories a 75 per cent share of the tax revenues from legalized marijuana sales.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau said the federal government would retain the remaining 25 per cent share to a maximum of $100 million a year, with any balance over and above that limit going to the provinces and territories.
This, after McNeil let slip that a two-year deal had been reached, and that provinces would have the ability to include a markup above and beyond existing taxation levels.
"If there is a markup that a respective province wants to do, it would be outside of that taxation model," McNeil said. "So that was the flexibility that we as a province were looking for and I would say ... it was what we were hearing across the country."
In other policy areas, the Atlantic premiers said they discussed the possibility of aligning their minimum wage rates, although there are no details at this point on how that could be done.
They also said any changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act should provide appropriate protection for the environment without resulting in unnecessary delays to offshore oil and gas project approvals.
"We know the process is working right now so we do not want to see anything that slows down investment in Newfoundland and Labrador," Ball said.