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Canada holds to 'spirit' of drug treaties with legal pot: McLellan

OTTAWA - A former Liberal cabinet minister who led a federally appointed task force on legalizing cannabis says Canada's plan to greenlight the drug for recreational use is in keeping with the spirit of international treaties — all of which criminalize the possession and production of marijuana.

It will be up to the government to make the case in relation to the treaties, Anne McLellan said Friday in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"We believe, as a task force, that we are, at least, in the spirit of those treaties," she said. "Those treaties talk to the protection of youth and young people, keeping young people out of criminal situations. They speak to fairness and justice and they speak to public health."

Canada is one of more than 185 parties to three United Nations drug control conventions — the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances and the 1988 Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

"I know Global Affairs has taken up this issue," she said. "This new approach, we believe as a task force, is in keeping with the spirit of the treaties . . . That is all I'm willing to say, because it is up to Global Affairs to determine the position they want to take."

Documents obtained early last year by The Canadian Press said the Liberal government would have to do substantial work on the international stage as it pursued the legalization of marijuana.

"As part of examining legalization of cannabis possession and production, Canada will need to explore how to inform the international community and will have to take the steps needed to adjust its obligations under these conventions," a government memo said.

McLellan, a former Liberal justice minister, said other countries want to see how successful Canada is at developing a legal market for cannabis, how it addresses organized crime and how it deals with drug-impaired driving.

The 2013 legalization of marijuana in Uruguay — a developing nation — did not attract the same kind of attention Canada's plans have done, McLellan said in an interview Friday.

Canada is set to become the first G7 country to legalize marijuana.

"We can be an example for those who want to move in this direction," she said. "We can try and anticipate some of the challenges and the opportunities. How does this market develop?"

Canada has been watching Colorado and Washington as the states compile data, because they are four years ahead in the process, she added.

"We can learn from them," McLellan said. "We can do the same things, building on what they've learned. Others will build on what we learn ... Canada and the government have been clear they will share what works and what doesn't with the rest of the world. We are seen as a leader in terms of public health issues, public safety issues."

In the U.S., eight states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington — and the District of Columbia have voted to legalize and regulate cannabis for non-medical purposes.

The states represent more than 20 per cent of the U.S. population or approximately 75 million people, Canada's task force said in its final report published in December.

In April, the Liberal government introduced legislation proposing that Canadian adults 18 and older be allowed to buy and cultivate small amounts of marijuana for personal use.

The federal government says it wants to have a legalized system in place by June 2018.

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