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Legal pot could hike court costs: Notley

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OTTAWA—Alberta's premier says she's worried that marijuana legalization could drive up policing and court bills her province cannot afford to pay.

The justice system already is overburdened and enforcing new pot-related measures could make things worse, Rachel Notley warned in an interview with The Canadian Press.

Notley said she was surprised by the recent federal proposal to levy an excise tax on recreational marijuana once it becomes legal next July, with the provinces and territories receiving just half the revenue.

Alberta and other provinces already have expressed displeasure about the sharing plan, saying they should get the bulk of the revenues to cover their costs.

The issue will resurface at a meeting of federal, provincial, and territorial finance ministers next month.

It is not reasonable to make the provinces do most of “cost-based heavy lifting" on implementing the new cannabis regime "with only a portion of the taxation,” Notley said.

The federal government says legalizing recreational use will help keep marijuana out of the hands of young people while denying profits to criminal organizations.

But it acknowledges the need to train and equip police to better deal with the phenomenon of drugged driving.

The Trudeau government has earmarked just over $274 million to support policing and border efforts associated with legalized pot, with some of the money to be made available to the provinces.

There still are many unanswered questions, including around enforcement, Notley noted.

“The issue with enforcement is if we don't get it right, what we do is we drive up policing and court costs quite significantly,” she said.

“The justice system is stretched and so to inject something like this in, without a clear understanding of how we're going to prosecute those things that we're being asked to enforce, could really drive a lot of costs.”

In response to Notley, Liberal MP Bill Blair said yesterday that the advent of a new approach also will mean cost reductions.

“We know that each year, tens of thousands of people are charged with simple possession of cannabis,” Blair said in an interview.

“Those charges will come out of the criminal justice system.”

Ottawa closely will monitor the cost impacts of legalization, added Blair, the parliamentary secretary to the justice and health ministers.

“I think there is a very real possibility of savings, but we also know it requires investment in oversight and administration and, where appropriate, enforcement,” he noted.

“That's part of the ongoing work that we're doing with provinces, territories, and municipalities to make sure funding is available.”

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