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Ex-colleague will lobby MP Bill Blair to restrict field of pot growers

MP Bill Blair, the former chief of the Toronto Police, is the Liberal government’s point man on marijuana legalization.

Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

A former high-ranking colleague and friend of MP Bill Blair, the Liberal government's point man on marijuana legalization, will lobby the ex-Toronto police chief in hopes of ensuring a tightly controlled system in which only licensed firms are allowed to grow the lucrative drug.

Kim Derry, a deputy chief of the Toronto Police Service under Mr. Blair, is a promoter of marijuana facility THC Meds Ontario Inc., along with George Smitherman, a former Ontario Liberal deputy premier. Mr. Blair, put in charge of the marijuana file last week, will play a key role in determining who gets to grow the product once it is legalized.

While some growers want loosely regulated production across the country, the operators of companies such as THC Meds say production licences should be limited to professional operations.

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In an interview, Mr. Derry said the government should aim to "get rid of the goons" who are currently in the marijuana business, calling for tight regulations on who can grow and sell the product.

"If there isn't, it will be the wild west," Mr. Derry said. "If you just open it up and allow everybody to grow this stuff and distribute it however they want, it will be an absolute mess."

Mr. Derry said he's looking forward to making his views known to Mr. Blair. "He and I have been friends for 40 odd years, so I'll certainly give him my opinion, whether he asks for it or not," said Mr. Derry, the security adviser for THC Meds Ontario, which is seeking a licence for a medical marijuana operation north of Toronto.

In a separate interview, Mr. Smitherman said Mr. Blair's appointment to oversee the legalization of marijuana bodes well for companies like his.

"I don't think we are going toward a model where legalization means you should grow some stuff in your backyard," said Mr. Smitherman. "I'm of the opinion that a preponderance of caution around growing and distribution will guide the government's model."

Mr. Blair could not be reached by The Globe and Mail after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called on him to be a lead player on the issue of the legalization of marijuana.

To this point, much of the public debate surrounding the legalization of marijuana has focused on who would sell the product to the Canadian public, with provincial liquor control boards among the early favourites.

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Still, Vancouver lawyer Kirk Tousaw said it is also important to liberalize the production of cannabis, pointing to American states where companies can sell the products that they grow.

"If we treat this like nuclear waste, it won't work. Even if we treat it like alcohol, it may not work that well," he said. "You have got to allow people to grow it for themselves.… It's not really legalization if you are kicking people's doors down and hauling them off to jail for growing the plant."

Mr. Tousaw, who has represented many clients in high-profile marijuana-related cases, said Mr. Blair's law-enforcement credentials are a cause for some concern at this point.

"People are creatures of their histories. If what you have seen of cannabis is gang violence and those kinds of things, I think you will have a perspective that is not necessarily in tune with the reality on the ground," Mr. Tousaw said.

Still, he said he is looking forward to seeing who will be appointed to the Liberal government's promised federal-provincial task force that will conduct consultations on the issue.

Mr. Tousaw said there will be problems if the new model is underregulated, which means public safety goals would not be achieved, or overregulated, in which the legal business would not be able to compete with the existing black market.

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First elected to the House in the past election, Mr. Blair was appointed last December as the parliamentary secretary to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.

"[Mr.] Blair's experience and background in public safety will be a great asset to the government's work to ensure a careful and thoughtful approach to the legalization and regulation of marijuana," Ms. Wilson-Raybould's spokesman said in a statement last Friday.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Daniel Leblanc studied political science at the University of Ottawa and journalism at Carleton University. He became a full-time reporter in 1998, first at the Ottawa Citizen and then in the Ottawa bureau of The Globe and Mail. More

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