I apologize in advance for asking more questions than I'm answering today.
We've just engaged Saskatchewan residents in an online survey respecting the various provincial responsibilities. Once we get our results, we'll have a better idea about where to go from here. Over 20,000 people have completed surveys over the last three and a half days. It's a staggering number, which only points to the importance of what we're doing today.
The other point I'd like to make at this time is that legalizing cannabis—or really, legalizing certain people over a certain age to have, use, share, or grow certain amounts of cannabis—wasn't something on our provincial agenda. While we're not being dragged kicking and screaming to the dance, putting on our dancing shoes wasn't something we had planned on doing. There are a lot of responsibilities the federal government has put on our provincial plates, without giving us a lot of time to get things ready for implementation.
Among other things, a province is responsible for designing and licensing the distribution and retail sale in their jurisdictions as well as carrying out associated compliance, taxation, and enforcement activities. Provinces are also responsible for setting additional regulatory requirements to address issues of local concern such as setting a higher minimum age or a more restrictive possession or personal cultivation limit. Provinces and municipalities are responsible for establishing zoning rules for cannabis-based businesses, restricting where cannabis may be consumed, and amending provincial traffic safety laws to further address drugged driving. Saskatchewan already has laws in place in respect of licence suspension for drug impairment by new or experienced drivers and zero tolerance for drug use by new drivers.
We must engage with our people, businesses, communities, partners, and other stakeholders regarding these issues and implement processes and practices before July 1, 2018. We must be ready to implement or deal with minimum age of purchase; legislation, regulation, and statute changes; and regulating personal cannabis cultivation and potency rates. We will have to maintain quality control at the point of sale. We will need to ensure that what consumers are getting is what they're supposed to be getting and not something that might be harmful. We have to regulate distribution, retail sales, consumption, and possession, by which I mean where cannabis may be permitted, how it may be consumed, and how to price and tax it.
A taxation framework for cannabis must carefully consider the distribution model and methods of administration and enforcement to ensure that tax is appropriately applied and collected. In setting a rate of tax to be applied to cannabis, the government must consider a rate that is high enough to deter the use of cannabis from a social acceptability perspective but not so high that individuals choose to purchase it illegally to avoid payment of the tax. I call this the “sweet spot”.
In addition, we must address issues such as engagement, public education, and awareness strategies, occupational health and safety, workplace safety issues, and drug-impaired driving laws. We have to engage in regulation of cannabis sales and distribution to and from our first nations communities. We have to provide oversight for municipal authority respecting zoning, licensing, taxation, and fees. And we need to participate in inter-jurisdictional collaboration and analysis regarding age, retail models, taxation, and pricing. We want to have a landscape that's as familiar across the country as possible, so that we don't have different jurisdictions with widely different laws.
The real question is, can all this be done in time? We hope so, but there is much to accomplish in a very short time. Having 12 to 18 months post royal assent would have been an easily attainable time frame. Instead, that was reduced to 14 months after the introduction of the bill.
One of the problems we have in Saskatchewan is that we have set legislative sessions for the spring and the fall as well as a relatively strict timetable for introducing legislation. We give notice in January, get approval in the spring, and then introduce legislation in the fall session. Any bill is then debated and voted during the following spring session.
Cannabis legalization, as proposed, takes us so far away from this timetable that they are complete strangers. We must go outside our normal practice rules in order to meet the July 2018 deadline. Although we're doing our best to do so, there are no guarantees we'll be able to meet this federal deadline.
In addition, we've had to begin our processes without a federal bill in its final form. While we know today what Bill C-45 says, will it look like this by the time it gets to royal assent? There are innumerable examples of other bills where changes, sometimes significant ones, are made during the legislative approval process. Canadian jurisdictions, however, are being asked to proceed without a safety net in the expectation that there will be no major changes en route or that we'll have to be flexible enough to be able to respond to those changes once we embark on our own implementation strategies.
Saskatchewan has some concerns about cannabis legalization. To name a few: ticketable offences; enforcement and regulation generally; public education, awareness, prevention, and treatment; minimum age; labelling and packaging; workplace safety; and whether a phased-in or staged approach would work better.
With respect to ticketable offences, Saskatchewan agrees that a cannabis ticket, as set out in part 2, is a criminal matter. A conviction for such an offence is a criminal conviction, and that is where the issue lies. We appreciate the effort at increasing justice efficiencies by using a ticket, but does that format lead an individual to believe that their payment of the fine is the end of the matter? Is it like a traffic ticket? Do they appreciate that they would then have a criminal conviction that would affect their ability to cross a border, for example? The ticket itself must make this very clear. As provinces, we are engaging in discussions with our federal colleagues about these issues. Perhaps proposed sections 51(3), 52, or 53 should also include a provision that a conviction is a criminal one.
A second issue, and perhaps a more important one about ticketing, concerns proposed subsection 52(b) respecting its requirement that the judicial record kept by a province must be separate and apart from other judicial records. As the conviction is a criminal one, we don't see the need for this requirement. Should we have to create a separate record-keeping system for just these offences? Not only will Saskatchewan have to redesign our system at great cost, it will take considerable time to do so, and for what purpose in the end? An offender must still disclose the conviction if they cross a border. The conviction will still show up in a criminal record check.
With respect to enforcement and regulation, while laudable, cannabis legislation is being implemented without enough scientific foundation. I think we heard from Dr. Ware this morning in that respect. Is there a consistent blood/drug concentration that equates to an individual's impairment? Can all of the toxicology experts agree that at x nanogram percent of THC in blood, everyone is impaired? They can with alcohol. My discussions with the toxicologists suggest that they are aren't at .08 on that point. We are designing a criminal law system through the interactions of Bill C-45 and Bill C-46, yet the science hasn't quite caught up to us.
We're also concerned that drug-impaired driving will increase due to legalization, and significantly higher numbers of standard field sobriety testers, SSFT, or drug recognition evaluators, DRE, must be trained and in the field when legalization takes effect very soon from today. Not only does it take time to train officers, doing so comes at significant cost. While in Saskatchewan we're reducing these costs as much as possible, by doing the DRE two-week classroom training at home—we're doing that in Saskatchewan—we still have to send our officers to either Florida or Arizona for their third week of training, and that's expensive.
Moreover, roadside testing is still in its infancy. Recognized practice rules are not yet in place, nor are there any approved roadside devices. Again, our scientific friends and those in the Department of Justice are working very hard in that respect. We're 292 days away, and we don't have any instruments that are being approved at this time.
The costs of these devices are likely to be significant, and our law enforcement and municipal officials are very concerned that the combination of training needs, device procurement, and the ongoing per-test and analysis costs will be much greater than they can absorb.
Let's put this into perspective. Recent funding announcements from Public Safety Canada will help. They've offered $81 million over five years for provinces to share. But what does that mean? There's $81 million over 13 provinces and territories. That's $6.231 million each over five years, which is $1.246 million per year, per jurisdiction.
To put that into context, we estimate the cost for a device, an approved screening device, will be $3,500. We also know that it costs us about $3,500 to send an officer to Arizona or Florida for the week-long training. It costs $1,000 to train an officer for SSFT. I'm not an accountant, so forgive me, but if we take $1.246 million divided by $3,500, that comes to 356. So we can purchase 356 devices or train 356 officers or some combination of both with the money that's being offered. We'll have to absorb the rest.
On another point, in requiring blood analysis—and we see the scientific reason for having to do so—are our laboratories capable of handling such a large influx of samples? Are there enough labs? Are there enough lab techs to conduct testing in a timely manner? We're left with a situation where a sample may be taken one day and take weeks or months to be analyzed.
Last, our police authorities are concerned that enforcing a four-plant personal grow provision will be very difficult, especially if the cultivation is inside or away from view. There's virtually no way to regulate this. Our officers are very concerned about this.
With respect to public education, awareness, prevention, and treatment, we found that a position shared across ministries and agencies in Saskatchewan is that the primary focus for this topic has to be youth and young adults. Safe use and awareness of potential consequences caused by the drug must be addressed, and although this is an area of joint responsibility, the federal government must lead the way well before implementation.
We know that cannabis use by young people in our country is amongst the highest in the developed world, yet our youth appear to be ill-informed regarding its dangers. For example, the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction in its recent report, “Canadian Youth Perceptions on Cannabis”, noted that youth consider cannabis less harmful than alcohol, yet cannabis use significantly increases the risk of injury or death in vehicular accidents. The health risks associated with cannabis are also little known. We can likely expect, however, that there will be increased demands for our health resources from addictions, mental health, and medical perspectives.