Ontario is on track to set the legal age for recreational marijuana at 19, says Premier Kathleen Wynne.
Wynne told the Star that the age of majority should be the same for pot as it is for booze once the federal government legalizes cannabis next July 1.
“I have a hard time imagining Ontario will have a lower age for pot than we do for alcohol,” she said in an interview at the close of the annual premiers’ conference here.
The legal age for drinking beer, wine and spirits has been set at 19 in Ontario since 1978.
It’s impractical for the province to have a higher legal age for consuming cannabis than for alcohol, the premier added.
“I think that would be a challenge,” Wynne said as a smoky haze from British Columbia forest fires blanketed Alberta’s capital.
Her comments came as Ontario holds online consultations at Ontario.ca/cannabis , where citizens can fill out a survey until July 31, and through public hearings as the province develops its strategy.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged the federal government will legalize recreational marijuana products by July 1, 2018. Medical marijuana is already legal.
As other provinces have, Ontario must decide where cannabis will be sold and where it can be used; set an age of majority, and protect both road safety and public health.
The online survey asks participants a number of questions: if they support 19 as the age of majority for marijuana; if landlords and condo boards should be able to restrict pot smoking on their premises; whether cannabis should be sold through government or private retailers or a mixture of both, and whether stronger penalties are needed for drug-impaired driving.
Wynne said she is keeping a close eye on what standards Quebec will set, given that the two provinces share a boundary easily crossed by thousands of people every day, particularly in the Ottawa-Gatineau area.
“We need to be on the same page on this,” she added, noting Ontario and Quebec have set up a working group to keep track of each other’s progress.
“It must be the case,” Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said at the premiers’ conference when asked if the Ontario and his province should establish the same age of majority for cannabis.
Couillard quipped “imagine the traffic” imagining the circumstances if the ages were different, in light of the fact that several bridges connect the nation’s capital to Quebec across the Ottawa River.
Quebec’s legal drinking age is now set at 18, a year lower than Ontario’s and that of most other provinces. Alberta and Manitoba have also set 18 as their age of majority for alcohol.
Ontario has established a Legalization of Cannabis Secretariat, which includes officials from a dozen ministries to co-ordinate the province’s approach.
It will host a series of public meetings later this summer as Ontario prepares for next summer’s deadline.
Provincial premiers warned Trudeau that they may ask that he delay the legalization, unless the federal government delay the legalization unless Ottawa provides clear answers on a number of public policy and safety questions.
They said more clarity is needed on taxation of cannabis; on the impact on traffic safety; on enforcement, and on how public education campaigns will take shape.
“We’ll work to the deadline, but, as things stand right now, there is work that also needs to be done by the federal government in order to meet it,” said Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, who hosted the annual conference.
A federal task force last year recommended 18 as the minimum legal age for recreational cannabis product and said Ontario and other provinces may want to set the age to 19 to match its age of majority for alcohol.
The Canadian Medical Association called for a minimum age of 21 for legal consumption of marijuana, saying its use at younger ages can damage teenagers’ brains.