Marijuana Legalization

Seeing Through the Purplish Haze?

Canada has a great opportunity to become a leader in the global marihuana industry given our recent our recent history regarding the legal decisions handed down by the courts and the recent political commitments of the liberal government. However, that opportunity could easily be lost if the government does not get the right set of policies in place.

by Ivan Ross Vrana

For example, when the Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) were created many thought this would signal the beginning of a robust medical marijuana industry in Canada. A significant amount of money was raised on Wall Street and Bay Street, properties were bought, facilities were designed and built and numerous applications were submitted to Health Canada. However, the regulatory burden imposed by the government proved to be extremely heavy; not to mention Health Canada’s application processing times to become a Licensed Producer went from 12 months to an average of 30 months.

Furthermore, the governing Conservatives viewed medical marijuana as a law and order issue – discounting the health aspects of the plant. Increasing criminal sanctions for marijuana possession and cultivation were the priority – with one paradoxical exception, the growth of illegal dispensaries that began in Vancouver and which has now spread across the country. At this point Canada’s “green rush” slowed down considerably – disappointing since the industry was less than two years old.

But then in 2015 the Liberals won the federal election and promised to legalize the use and possession of marijuana. Indeed, the Health Minister recently stated that a regime would be in place by the spring of 2017. “Sunny way’s” seem to be here once again.

OR ARE THEY?

As much as the supporters of marijuana legalization would like the government to simply enact a law ending the prohibition on marijuana, this is not a simple or straightforward proposition.

Why not? First the government has to take into account and manage the various United Nations treaties it has signed – these treaties have classified marijuana as a dangerous narcotic and therefore it is a controlled substance. Any legalization effort in Canada will have to convince our international partners that marihuana will be controlled and strictly regulated. To that end, Bill Blair (the Member of Parliament who has been tasked by the Prime Minister to create a task force that will spearhead the government’s legalization efforts) along with the Minister’s of Health and Justice have repeatedly stated the government will: “...regulate, and restrict access to marijuana”. Here then is the problem, exactly what does that mean?

From a policy perspective, it means the government will put in place a series of regulations that determine everything from how the product is produced, what types of products can be produced, who can access it, where, when and how it can be imported and exported, where it can be used and how it is distributed and advertised.

SOUND FAMILIAR?

Well it is. These are the same considerations that were part of the format used to develop the MMPR. And that is the problem – if the government adopts this same sort of outlook this will create more problems than solutions. The market in Canada will not be one that meets the demands of consumers, investors, producers or satisfies the political goals of any political party; federal or provincial.

But not all is lost. The recent Federal Court ruling in British Columbia means the government will have to amend or rewrite the MMPR so that it reflects a patient’s desire to grow their own marijuana. This in of itself might seem like a small issue but it represents a unique opportunity that can allow the government to start developing a policy prescription that will fix them over-regulation of the MMPR by August of this year. This work can then be the foundation for a coherent path forward for a legalized system.

The government will have to consult extensively with Canadians (and as of today Mr. Blair has yet to create his task force – the clock is ticking) and reconcile the views of marijuana advocates; consumers; patient groups; Licensed Producers; health care practitioners; researchers; scientists; provincial/territorial/municipal governments; law and order advocates and those who want to be a part of a legal distribution system.

All of these views will then have to be balanced against the government’s own responsibility to protect and maintain the health of Canadians; the extensive jurisprudence regarding marijuana in Canada and the financial risks and rewards. Once this has been done, the government will then have to ensure its draft legislation does not conflict with any international and federal/provincial/territorial laws and regulations.

Given all of these considerations the government has set itself a formidable, but worthwhile task. One hopes that these considerations are not barriers to success but will actually create a stable and mature industry that will be a benefit to the country and set an example for the rest of the world.

Illustrator Olivier Desrocher