OTTAWA — The New Democrats are urging the Liberal government to decriminalize pot before they legalize it.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigned on a promise to legalize, regulate and restrict access to marijuana, and his government plans to get started next spring.
Meanwhile, the existing criminal law remains on the books and police are expected to enforce it.
The NDP is introducing an opposition day motion Monday calling on the House of Commons to recognize there is a contradiction in giving people criminal records for something the government has said should not be a crime.
Related: Why it’s time to legalize marijuana
The motion also calls on the government to decriminalize simple possession of marijuana for personal use immediately.
“Canadians thought they were voting for a Liberal government that would act quickly to stop the arrests and subsequent criminal records for those who smoke pot,” NDP MP Murray Rankin said in a statement.
“But instead we see a government that has not moved on this issue and worse, they have encouraged law enforcement to crack down on marijuana users, further wasting resources and bringing greater confusion to the legal system,” said Rankin, the justice critic for his party.
Related: Canada’s out-of-control marijuana business
Health Minister Jane Philpott formally announced the federal government’s plan to legalize and regulate marijuana in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
“We know it is impossible to arrest our way out of this problem,” Philpott said April 20 in the speech at a special session on global drug policy as she revealed the promised legislation could come in spring 2017.
That same day, Trudeau argued it would be irresponsible to decriminalize marijuana in the meantime.
“We believe in the legalization and regulation of marijuana because it protects our kids and keeps money out of the pockets of criminal organizations and street gangs,” Trudeau told the House of Commons.
“The fact of the matter is that decriminalization, as the member proposes, actually gives a legal stream of income to criminal organizations. That is not what anyone wants in this country,” Trudeau said.
Liberal MP Bill Blair, a former Toronto police chief and parliamentary secretary to the justice minister, confirmed in February that police should continue enforcing Criminal Code provisions on marijuana.
“Quite frankly, until those laws are repealed by Parliament through the appropriate processes, they should be upheld, they should be obeyed,” said Blair.
He was responding to members of the police community who had said the discussion surrounding legalization had created confusion, especially for officers on the front lines tasked with enforcing the law.
On May 26, Toronto police along with city municipal licensing and standards officials raided 43 marijuana dispensaries.
They arrested 90 people, including shop owners and employees.
A coalition of marijuana dispensaries in Toronto said police and city officials made a “major mistake” in targeting the pot shops and called for the charges to be dropped.
Some Torontonians denounced the operation — called Project Claudia — as a waste of police resources, while others questioned the timing.
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders dismissed the criticism, saying the raids were prompted by health concerns and complaints from the community.