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Trudeau defends legalized pot

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ESQUIMALT, B.C.—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says regulating the sale of marijuana will protect young people and take money away from criminal gangs, but the government is drawing the line at pot when it comes to legalizing illicit drugs.

The federal government's approach on marijuana has two goals, Trudeau said yesterday during a visit to Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt in the Victoria area.

“The first is to protect our kids," he noted. ”Right now, we know that young people have easier access to marijuana than just about any other illicit substance.

"It's easier to buy a joint for a teenager than it is to buy a bottle of beer. That's not right.

“Secondly, we know that criminal organizations and street gangs are making billions of dollars off of the sale of marijuana,” added Trudeau.

“We feel that regulating it, controlling it will bring that revenue out of the pockets of criminals and put it into a system where we can both monitor, tax it, and ensure that we are supporting people who are facing challenges related or unrelated to drug use.”

But the government doesn't plan to go any further than legalizing marijuana in legislation Trudeau hopes will be introduced by this summer.

“We are not planning on including any other illicit substances in the move towards legalizing and controlling and regulating,” he said.

Trudeau was scheduled to participate in a roundtable discussion with first responders and health-care workers today in Vancouver on British Columbia's opioid crisis, which killed 922 people last year.

A recent federal announcement giving $10 million to the provincial government to help fight overdose deaths is aimed at improving the response to the crisis, Trudeau noted.

Although it is up to the province to decide how that money is spent, he said people in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside told him in December that more money was needed to keep safe consumption sites open longer for drug users in the inner-city neighbourhood.

“This is an issue that we are taking very seriously and we will continue to engage in,” stressed Trudeau, who met with Premier Christy Clark yesterday evening in Vancouver.

Trudeau spent yesterday morning on the naval base, where he went on a five-km run with Defence minister Harjit Sajjan and military personnel, met with sailors, and toured the facility.

Trudeau examined the recently-modernized combat systems on board HMCS Ottawa, one of the Pacific fleet's five frigate-class ships.

He also visited the crew of HMCS Chicoutimi as the submarine was about to leave the base for a voyage.

Trudeau met privately with Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps at city hall, where protesters gathered outside carrying signs that chided the government for dropping plans to reform the electoral system and its support for the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion project.

Helps said the meeting was the first time a prime minister had been at city hall since 1965, when Lester Pearson visited.

She said she received no firm commitments from Trudeau during the 30-minute meeting.

They discussed “green” technology, the opioid crisis, the city's cruise ship terminal, and housing.

“The best outcome is I feel there's the beginning of a relationship,” Helps noted.

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