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Nova Scotia cannabis legislation sets fines, syncs weed and alcohol penalties

HALIFAX — Proposed Nova Scotia legislation would see fines as high as $10,000 for illegal marijuana sales or distribution to a person under 19, while impaired drivers will also face stiff penalties.

April 6, 2018  By The Canadian Press

The fines are part of a series of penalties around the legal age, possession and cultivation of recreational cannabis included in the province’s new Cannabis Control Act introduced Tuesday by Justice Minister Mark Furey.

Anyone under 19 found with less than five grams will face seizure of the drug and a fine of no more than $150. Those who buy cannabis from anyone other than the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation (NSLC) could be fined up to $250.

Furey said the province will harmonize its penalties for alcohol with those proposed for marijuana so sanctions are consistent.

“Let me be clear — driving while high is not only dangerous, it is a crime,” said Furey. “And the legislation … provides strong sanctions for those who drive impaired.”

Under the changes, cannabis use will be prohibited in any vehicle including motorized boats and people could be fined up to $2,000 for consumption, or for improper storage in a vehicle.

Furey said those convicted of impaired driving will lose their licence, pay a fine, and — combined with federal laws — could do jail time. Police will have the power to seize vehicles and could demand a saliva swab or blood sample in order to determine the level of impairment.

Those convicted under Criminal Code of Canada provisions face a fine of no less than $1,000 and a one-year licence suspension for a first offence, and up to 30 days in jail and a three-year licence suspension for a second offence.

Andrew Murie, CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada, said Nova Scotia’s changes are the most comprehensive the organization has seen in any province.

“A lot of the other provinces are just emulating the Criminal Code charges where Nova Scotia has brought in a match with what they do for alcohol,” said Murie. “We fundamentally believe that this is the right direction to go in.”

Murie said he believes the penalties and subsequent education campaigns will have an effect.

“We’ve got a major drugs and driving problem now. When you look at the fatalities since we’ve been measuring them since 2011, drugs alone is the number one cause of fatality.”

The province announced in January that the NSLC would be the sole authorized seller of cannabis in nine stores. That’s now set in the legislation, which also leaves the door open for cabinet to revisit the issue at a later date.

Furey said the new law is also clear about the status of illegal dispensaries, which could face fines of no less than $10,000 and up to $25,000.

“Dispensaries are presently illegal,” he said. “Dispensaries will be illegal once the federal government legalizes recreational cannabis.”

Furey said the provincial changes would give police confidence to take “progressive steps to address the illicit or illegal dispensaries.”

The new act would also give landlords the ability to ban pot smoking in apartment buildings, while tenants would be able to give early notice if they don’t like the changes included in their leases.

Progressive Conservative interim leader Karla MacFarlane didn’t quibble with the fines, but said the legislation still leaves questions around the future sales of cannabis by the NSLC and the still-to-come public education campaign.

She expressed disappointed that the legislation enshrines the legal age at 19 and not 21.

“I’m fearful that our youth will not be educated on it properly,” she said.

NDP critic Claudia Chender said her party is still “curious” around the budget implications for the changes and around the educational component. The province still hasn’t laid out how much money has been set aside for such things as public education and enforcement.

Last week Furey said the government was also expanding restrictions on where people can smoke cannabis under the Smoke-free Places Act.

That includes the smoking or vaping of cannabis near playgrounds, publicly owned sport and recreation sites, public trails, and provincial parks and beaches — except within a rented campsite.

– Keith Doucette

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., 2018

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