Recreational Cannabis Soon to Be Legalized, But Who Should Be Writing the Regulatory Rule Book?
On April 13, 2017, the federal government tabled Bill C-45 on the legalization, regulation, production, distribution, sale and possession of recreational cannabis in Canada. At the heart of the project are laudable goals such as protecting minors, preserving public health, and deterring any criminal activity involving the illicit purchase or sale of cannabis.
However, some provincial elected officials have expressed concerns, and many are seeking to delay the new legislation for fear of not being ready to face all the challenges involved. A key reason for this reluctance is the proposal to delegate full responsibility for the distribution of recreational cannabis to the provinces.
According to Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, “There are too many unanswered questions, too many issues that have not been addressed for us to rush into what is an historic change.”
Distribution of Recreational Cannabis: Why Not A Federal Support System?Although access to cannabis for medical use was granted as early as 1999 through individual exemptions under section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, it was only in 2001, with the entry into force of the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMPR) that cannabis for medical use was officially legalized across the country.
This regulation, which was replaced in 2016 by the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR), which allows those with authorization from their physician to have access to dried marijuana for medical purposes either by producing their own seedlings, by appointing someone to do so for them, or by sourcing from Health Canada.
To achieve this, the Canadian government put in place a series of federal rules regulating production, distribution and access to cannabis for medical use.
Bill C-45 proposes a completely different system of distribution, leaving it to the provinces to set it up . Establishing such a distribution network would be a considerable task; it is one that would require public resources in each province and territory, which would take time, and would likely not be without surprises and obstacles. There are only ten and a half months left before the proposed law comes into force. Whether the provinces and territories have enough time to set up their own systems and whether it is really appropriate to entrust them exclusively with this responsibility without providing substantial federal support remain important questions.
I believe that Canadians would benefit from Bill C-45 if it were to provide for a distribution system which would ensure legal options for purchase for all residents who do not otherwise have access to a provincial distribution system.
By expanding this infrastructure to cover recreational cannabis, the federal government could effectively ease the pressure of legalization on provincial legislative agendas in the coming year.
Benefits of A Federal Distribution SystemThe legalization of recreational cannabis is the only realistic way to eliminate black market participation in the industry. If legal purchase options are not reasonably available across Canada, residents who do not have access to a legal and adequate source of cannabis will have to purchase it on the black market.
Giving the provinces the option to rely on a federal system would help ensure that legal options are available to all their residents of age, regardless of geographic location or any mobility impairment.
Crucially, I would also suggest that the provinces have the right to withdraw from such a federal support system once they have established their own distribution systems. However, provinces should also have the option of maintaining the federal system, alongside with their own networks.
The presence of a federal support system would also allow ideologically recalcitrant provinces to limit their direct involvement in the legalization of cannabis without having to directly oppose the federal legalization policy.
Freed from the need to develop their own distribution systems by July 1, 2018, the provinces could focus their efforts on other issues of importance to their citizens, such as public education around cannabis and the preparation of law enforcement agencies to enforce the new laws.
The administration of a federal system of distribution by mail would also benefit from economies of scale compared to the alternative of serving rural or mobility-impaired Canadians through a patchwork of provincial delivery systems.
This article was written in collaboration with Mathieu Beaudoin, Community Manager for CanBudz.com, and is based on a memo submitted on August 18 to the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Health (HESA).
CanBudz.com aims to offer craft cannabis producers a way to reach consumers, from coast to coast, in Canada’s soon-to-be-legalized recreational market, and advocates for the adoption of legislation friendly to the creation of small- and medium-sized businesses in the industry.
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