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Alberta Alberta NDP to introduce cannabis legislation in fall sitting

NDP government House Leader Brian Mason said Friday the province will introduce two pieces of cannabis legislation in the fall sitting.

John Ulan/The Canadian Press

Alberta will introduce legislation laying out its plan for cannabis legalization, and also make a final call on whether storefront sales will be managed by government monopoly or private interests, before the end of the year.

Alberta laid out the broad strokes of its cannabis plan earlier this month. But NDP government House Leader Brian Mason said Friday the province will introduce two pieces of legislation in the fall sitting: One will deal with the road-safety and impairment aspects of cannabis and the other dealing with cannabis regulation, including distribution, sales, where it can be consumed and the minimum legal age.

He added that, across the country, everyone is scrambling to have their own province-specific laws in place before Ottawa's July 1, 2018, deadline for recreational marijuana legalization.

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"This is something that has been dropped on us by the federal government," Mr. Mason said. "Everyone is running out of time."

In its draft plan unveiled early this month, Alberta laid out a flexible approach for marijuana legalization. The province's blueprint would allow for public consumption in many areas, as long as it is far away from schools, playgrounds and other sites frequented by children. It also suggests the minimum age for consumption should be set at 18 – the same as the legal drinking age in Alberta.

The government gave Albertans until Friday at midnight to comment on the draft plan. Legislation will come in the weeks ahead.

Earlier this month, Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley said the government isn't favouring either the private model or a government model. But she noted that a private model is the one Albertans are most familiar with since the province closed its last Alberta Liquor Control Board store 23 years ago.

One Calgary academic has suggested the government implement a hybrid system. Kelly Sundberg, a professor of justice and policy studies at Mount Royal University, said the government should embrace a franchise model – making outlets available to individuals or non-profit groups, with standardized branding elements, and furnishing and design, at 370 locations across the province.

Prof. Sundberg recommends limiting the number of franchises owned by any one person or group to three, to discourage big U.S. marijuana players from taking over. He argues that such a system could create more than 1,000 new full-time jobs, create hundreds of millions of dollars in private economic activity and almost $215-million a year in government revenues.

"Why not allow young people, Aboriginals, and newcomers an opportunity to gain entry to a really interesting new industry in the province – and actually do it in a way that's kind of balanced?" he said in an interview.

Ontario, which will also introduce cannabis legislation this fall, said Friday it is taking the initial steps to identify the storefront locations for marijuana sales. In September, Ontario became the first province to announce a detailed plan to sell and distribute recreational marijuana, and will set the legal age to purchase it at 19. The province plans to set up approximately 150 standalone cannabis stores, run by a subsidiary of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, by 2020. New Brunswick has also revealed some of its marijuana plans. British Columbia wraps up its public consultation period on Nov. 1.

Alberta's legislature resumes on Monday. On the broader legislative front, Mr. Mason said the list of bills includes one that will see the province put legal teeth behind its pledge to protect the identities of children and teens who join peer support groups called gay-straight alliances (GSAs).

The move stands specifically to challenge the position of Jason Kenney, the presumed front-runner in the United Conservative Party leadership race, who has said in some cases it's best to tell parents their children have joined a GSA, and that school officials are in the best position to make the decision.

The government will also beef up consumer-protection measures, workplace standards legislation and will introduce a bill to protect people from age discrimination. The first bill of the sitting will be one that addresses gas-and-dash risks – following two high-profile cases in which gas station employees were struck and killed by fleeing vehicles – likely by forcing people to pay before they fill up.

Mr. Mason acknowledged the possibility of "continuing fluidity" in the legislature as the province awaits the results of the UCP leadership vote, with results to be announced Saturday. Of the three candidates in the race, Brian Jean, Mr. Kenney, and Doug Schweitzer, only Mr. Jean is a sitting MLA.

With a file from The Canadian Press

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