Legalizing marijuana has been on the federal government agenda during the last session. (Citizen file)

Legalizing marijuana has been on the federal government agenda during the last session. (Citizen file)

Alistair MacGregor column: Cannabis front and centre in on Parliament Hill

We have been debating changes to the impaired driving laws

By Alistair MacGregor

After a long session in Parliament working hard on legislative affairs, we have finally hit summer weather where the real work begins: reconnecting with constituents that sent me to Ottawa and ensuring that all of your issues are well represented and defended in the House of Commons.

I know that in your working and busy lives you cannot possibly follow all the things that have happened in the spring parliamentary session, so I appreciate this opportunity to give an update on some of the highlights.

As the lead on the Justice and Attorney General file for the NDP, I have been kept busy with a lot of legislation that ranges from updating and improving our sexual assault laws to the legalization and regulation of recreational cannabis.

We have been debating changes to the impaired driving laws and the implementation of a cannabis regulatory system this past month. We will start extended committee sittings in the early fall where we will interview and question hundreds of experts about any amendments or clarifications we can make to the legislation.

It is reprehensible that despite legalization becoming a reality, we are still using valuable and over-stretched police and justice resources to criminalize Canadians for simple possession of small amounts of marijuana. This law is being unequally enforced across the country, and it largely targets young and racialized Canadians.

There have been thousands of Canadians charged with simple possession since the Liberals took over from the Harper government despite promising to legalize the drug.

My NDP colleagues and I will continue to push the government to immediately remove criminal penalties for simple possession and then push for pardons for those who have been convicted in the past just for having small amounts of cannabis in their possession.

I have not been shy to applaud the government when they get things right, but I have been raising important questions on your behalf about the coming changes.

The Liberals have been very secretive as to what they plan to do with the three international anti-drug treaties that Canada is party to, which obligate us to keep cannabis illegal. The government had until July 1 of this year to withdraw from these treaties in order to successfully legalize cannabis by July 1, 2018 without sullying our international reputation.

I believe that we should not speak out of both sides of our mouth when dealing with the international community. We should not promise to keep something illegal while moving legalization in the light of day. We should be honest about our intentions because if we are willing to mislead the international community on this, questions may be raised on what other issues Canada can be trusted on.

When it comes to the changes to the impaired driving laws, there are many questions that remain unanswered. We do not yet know how much cannabis needs to be in the body for a person to be too impaired to drive, and we are unsure if the devices that test cannabis levels can work in cold temperatures.

The last thing we want to be doing is arresting and charging drivers who are not impaired because they have cannabis residue in their system from the previous week, an issue the government must confront if they are planning on legalizing the recreational use of the drug.

There are also issues with the proposed changes that would give police the power to test any person in their car for alcohol consumption without any reasonable suspicion that they are impaired. In our study at committee, I will be asking civil rights experts about the possible Charter of Rights and Freedoms implications of such a change.

This has been a busy session of parliament and the future only shows more hard work on your behalf.

I will be out across the riding all summer long, so please come and share your thoughts with me either at my offices in Duncan and Langford or any time you see me out at a community event.

Alistair MacGregor is the Member of Parliament for Nanaimo-Cowichan.