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Midweek Exclusive- Marijuana is dangerous, regulating it will benefit Canadians: MP Bill Blair on Channel Y 

Govt wishes to take away $7b from criminals and invest it in rehabilitation of addicts

By Shazia Malik

Mississauga – Marijuana can be a very dangerous drug particularly for kids and while saying we will legalise marijuana, quite frankly that’s not all what was said. What we had said was that we intend to legalise marijuana, regulate and restrict it. This was said by former Toronto police chief and now Liberal MP Bill Blair and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice during an exclusive interview to Yudhvir Jaswal, Group Editor and CEO of YMedia. It is worth noting that Prime Minister Trudeau has asked MP Blaire has appointed to lead marijuana legalization in Canada.

Explaining further Blair said: “The current system of control is failing. The current system has allowed in Canadians the highest rate of marijuana use in the world. We believe that we can do a better job, of protecting our kids, and keeping our communities safe, by regulating and restricting access that people have to marijuana. Thus marijuana will be available but in a highly regulated way and we can do a better job at keeping it away from the hands of kids and we will take all those profits away from the organized crime that are responsible for much of the crime, and victimization that takes place in our communities.”

Blair explained how after retirement people asked him that after retiring as police chief would he move to politics? He informed: “I spent my life in public service. I was very privileged. I was a police officer in Toronto for nearly 40 years, and in the last 10 years, I served my community as the chief of Toronto police, as a public servant, responsible for protecting our kids, and keeping our communities safe, and when I retired from that position, I wanted to continue to serve, and so people asked me, are you going to be a politician. I said I am not really a very good politician but I am a good public servant and wanted to continue to help my government, keep out kids safe and keep our communities safe. And that is why when Mr Trudeau asked me to run for office and come and work with him in Ottawa, I thought it was a good opportunity to continue in the life of service to my community and I’m honoured that people of Scarborough West elected me and gave me the opportunity to serve them. I also had the opportunity to serve all the Canadians, and working with my government to make sure that we have laws and regulations that do a better job of protecting our citizens and in particular our kids.”

When asked if the move will promote the use of marijuana, Blair said: “Let me reassure everyone that it is not our intention to promote the use of marijuana. I believe marijuana is a very dangerous drug, but we want to make sure that we reduce the harm associated with this drug. One of the greatest concerns that we have is that today Canadian young people use marijuana more than young people in any other part of the world. We are very concerned because of this because this is a dangerous drug for the young people and interfere with the development of their brain. It can also interfere with their outcomes like their education and their life.

“And so we want to do a better job than is currently being done, by restricting the access of marijuana to young people, and we believe that today frankly it is easier for young people to buy marijuana than to buy alcohol because one is prohibited under the criminal law but the other one is being strictly regulated. So we want to remove the criminal prohibition but replace it with a very effective system, a comprehensive system of regulating and control and doing a better job in keeping that drug from the hands of children and youth, and so it will not be available as we are restricting its availability for children under 18.”

Explaining further the details, Blair said: “For adults, there will be restriction on its production, its distribution and its consumption which we believe will lead to the healthier and more responsible use of this drug to make our community safe and right now it is the sad reality that billions of dollars in criminal profits go to gangs and organized criminal groups who use its profits to commit other crimes and victimise people in our society. So we want to take those profits from them. We want to take that business from the hands of the criminals and want to put it in the hands or accountable, responsible business community through strict government regulation and we think we can do a much better job of protecting our communities and ensuring Canadians’ health.”

Blair clarified: “The goals of our government are doing a better job in protecting our kids and communities. I want to assure all the Canadians that we will be very careful and responsible. Our main task will be to protect our children. I have children and grandchildren. I have served my community and I have worked with people from across the country. I know that people want us to do a better job in protecting their kids. It is everyone’s priority. But the current system is not achieving that and so we wish to bring a change. I frequently meet with the police chief here in the Peel region and in York region. I have been speaking to the Canadian association of chiefs of police and we know we are responsible for keeping our communities safe across the country. We have also been meeting the medical community, other public officials, the business community and the businesses to talk about this important issue. We all have a responsibility to protect this community.”

Talking about the misconception on marijuana use, Blair informed: “There is s lot of misinformation among our young people on the effects this drug can have. The science is very clear. I have met with a number of people who work in a problematic substance abuse but also in public health, and the negative affect the use of this drug can have on the developing adolescent mind. So marijuana can have irreparable harm to the mind’s development. It can also lead to very bad outcomes in their ability to complete school, to complete tasks and be successful in life and so we can restrict its job through public education.

“And so we work with the parents, with youth, with teachers, and other medical professionals, making sure that people have the right information so that the kids know the risks, and so they can make a good judgment about their own health and their own futures. So we have the responsibility of giving the facts and telling them what the risks are and not all risks can be avoided. Even in adult use, there are risks. There are dangers that can affect your ability to drive a motor vehicle. It can have other health affects so we have to ensure that when adults want to use it, should have restrictions in its use, its distribution and its consumption, but we also have the adults to have the facts, they should have the evidence and information they need to have so that they can be responsible and healthy in their choices.”

Blair also informed how the drug would be regulated. He stated: “We will ensure strictly regulated system for its production, and see what is produced is safe for anyone’s consumption, its produced in a healthy way, in good environment, by following good production practices and that we know its potencies as to how strong it is and we know where it came from. We can ensure that it is produced safely, and so it can be tracked down from the seed to the sale though a licensed regulated system. We will also put in place a strict regulation that will restrict access to young people get this drug. Today the drug being sold to a 14-year-old is not done by a responsible adult but by someone who is a criminal and wants the money, and so unfortunately it is very easy for young people to get marijuana in today’s society. Under a strictly regulated system, the drug will only be available in government regulated drug outlets, and so it will be against the law to sell it to that child. And it will be sold by a regulated, responsible adult instead of a criminal. It will be a more serious crime to sell that drug to a teenager. It will be a criminal offence and we’ll deal with it in a very strict way.”

Talking about the laws, Blair said that the currently the only thing in place is the criminal law, the statistics they have tell them that “among our high school students, 20% have reported they have abused the drug. By the time those kids go to grade 12, 35% are reporting they are using the drug and they have also reported quite frankly it is easier for them to get marijuana than alcohol. Let me give you an example. Alcohol is regulated and restricted to young people. In order to purchase alcohol, a young person will go in the alcohol store where he will be asked for his identification. If he is unable to prove that he is not of legal age, he will not be allowed to buy alcohol. But if he wishes to buy marijuana, there is no control, so we wish to ensure that the places where marijuana is sold, its sale is restricted and young people do not have easy access so that we prevent its access to young people.

“It’s not only the matter of restricting the access also but that they have the information they need to make the right decision about their health and future. So there is a significant public education programme. Another thing we did is not make criminal offences against young people and put them in jails, but regulate and restrict access, give education to help them make better choices. Stop criminalising young people because that have a huge impact on their life and opportunities for them in life, that is why we are working with the justice community, police and medical community, educators and kids.”

When asked how he will deal with the challenges, Blair said: “I fought organized crime all my life. One of things I think I can do is take away some of the opportunities from organized crime by having a properly regulated product that Canadians can have and be confident that it is produced safely, without any adulterations or chemical drugs that have harmful effects or other harmful drugs, that often is the case in street drugs today. To tell them there is a safer place that they can choose from and it is at a reasonable price and reasonably accessible. That we can compete effectively with the criminal market, but that alone is not enough. The criminal market is operating outside that regulated system. If they are either producing or selling marijuana that is not safe, not tested or inspected, they are illegally selling it. Therefore they will be subject to strict criminal sanctions. We will have police enforcement against criminal activity and criminal groups. But we will also compete with them in the marketplace by giving Canadians a better choice, to buy from a source that is safer than from a criminal. Canadians will make that choice, I’m sure. Also for adults to acquire, buy and possess from a source that is under some regulation and control.”

Giving another reason of legalizing marijuana, Blair said: “Billions of dollars can be invested in treatment, education, prevention, rehabilitation. We can have regulatory framework and resources to whereas they buy guns to harm our societies. As police I had the opportunity to go to a community where a young man had been shot in dispute of the territory to sell their drugs. Today marijuana market in Canada is over $7 billion and I have read various studies that suggest it. Ideally we would like to take it all away but I’m not naïve as I’ve been fighting crime all my life and so what we need is time to convince Canadians to make smarter choices. It will take time to convince them this is the right thing to do. For example for a long time organized crime controlled all the gambling in this country, was responsible for all the illegal gaming that was taking place. So almost 35 years ago, the government started to make a decision to regulate gambling through introduction of lottery tickets, through the opening of casinos. They put in a very strict regulatory regime. They put taxes, they redirected profits away from the criminals and into the community.”

Blair continued by saying: “Organised crime was driven out of the business of gambling, not entirely but almost completely. So gambling in our society is a highly regulated activity, subject to restriction, oversight and accountability by government authority. We can learn from that experience and we can apply it for marijuana, and if people get in trouble as they do, there will be resources to help them through prevention treatment and rehabilitation. We are talking about only cannabis and that’s the only drug we are talking about for regulating and restricting. We still have regulations for tackling other more serious drugs that we have no intention of changing except it is important to take a public health approach, and reduce harm. When we looked at cannabis, we talked about how to reduce its harm related to this drug’s use, we looked at all of them that harm our communities and citizens.”

On the issue of legalising prostitution, Blair said: “The current Canadian law that has been in place for the last 100 years, in that prostitution is not illegal but there are a number of activities around it which are illegal. In my experience and I have enforced them for many, many years, in the city of Toronto that was a challenge and a greater responsibility – to protect our citizens and maintain a good quality of life in our community and I’ll again talk of reducing the harm. The main problem with those involved in this business is that most of them are not willing. They are coerced and forced. They are victims of human trafficking. We have a responsibility in our capacity to protect our society, and hold to account who have victimized them, and so we need laws to protect the unwilling, and those who victimize, force or traffic in fellow human beings, they are dealt with very severely and in an effective way.

“We also want to make sure that when adults make certain choices about how they wish to conduct themselves, if they make those choices freely that are not in the interest of the greater society, to have necessary criminal sanctions about those things. So it is not the issue of prostitution but to ensure it is done in a way that it does not interfere with the quality of other people’s life and does not compromise the safety of our communities, and does not put in jeopardy the lives of those who participate in those activities. Their safety, security, and their health is important to us and we need to protect those people. And that they do it lawfully and safely.”

On the issue of Iqra Khalid Blair said: “We have chatted about it and it is a concern. It happened because of the motion she brought in and I support her motion. We as a nation have a responsibility to stand against any hatred and bigotry in any form wherever it occurs. Iqra has brought to the forefront a lot of hatred directed towards the Muslim community in Canada so it is our responsibility to stand up for the Canadian values. But on the issue of threats particularly on social media, that is one of the challenges. People say some of the most outrageous and hateful things on it even to the extent of issuing threats. Some of the things said to my colleague crossed the threshold of criminal threat and will be looked at in that lense. And if the crime is committed and if we can identify the person, for that there are a lot of laws that can hold those individuals accountable, and they should be. But at the same time, we as society have to look at various communications tools that are available to us. There are countless youth who are using twitter, facebook, and instagram. We want to ensure they are doing it safely. It is widespread and we must all take steps to ensure there is a safe environment. We as a society denounce the hatred and bigotry shown to my colleague. It is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated. They are contrary to the values that bring us together as a community.”

Taking the issue further Blair said: “I’m proud of the fact that this country has embraced diversity which is the strength of our country. In my opinion and experience that is the most important value, so the way we support each other, stand by each other, that is why people have chosen to come here from all parts of the world, from every culture, speaking every language, and come here to live together. We all live here in harmony and peace, with respect and tolerance – things that define this country. When we see evidence of threat to those values, we come together as people, and stand against that saying we will not accept that. We should not take for granted what is great about this country. We must be prepared to defend it and stand for it which is what makes us a great nation and great people, and these are the values we all share.”

On the use of word Islamophobia, Blair said: “We are just using it as an excuse. It came up in October last year and was unanimously passed. So it was not a concern in October why is it now. We will stand against it, and bigotry against the Muslim Canadian community. Recently six people died in Quebec City Mosque while they were praying. As a nation we denounce it and the words are just being used as a distraction but the spirit is crystal clear. I personally stand behind her and makes for an important statement as a country. In my constituency, one in five people are Muslims and I stand by them.”

He said he has travelled around the world and he was asked about the integration in society and the remarkable diversity in Canada as more than half of the people in GTA have come from places of conflict, have come from both side of divide, so how they live together. He said he always tell them Canadians embrace diversity which is our strength and respect for each other. He quoted the former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who said when you board a plane to go to England, France or Germany and when you came out of that plane you will not be an Englishman, a Frenchman or a German. But when you flew on a plane and came to the bottom of that flight’s steps and land in Canada, you’ll be a Canadian. Thus he said he is inspired by that notion. Toronto is the safest and the most diverse place where people come to live together. He said this is achieved through respect for each other and embracing them and these values cannot be attained through policing. He said media and communities can play a major role in keeping that harmony.

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