Earlier this year a task force was created for the purpose of advising the Canadian government on the best ways to create and implement marijuana legalization for all adults in the country. Earlier this week the task force released their findings in a massive report encompassing 6 chapters and 5 annexes.
Compiled over the course of 5 months, the recommendations contained in the report cover all aspects of marijuana legalization, from advertising to taxation to growing to processing concentrates.
“To fulfill our mandate, we engaged with provincial, territorial and municipal governments, experts, patients, advocates, Indigenous governments and representative organizations, employers and industry,” it reads in the report’s Executive Summary. “We heard from many other Canadians as well, including many young people, who participated in an online public consultation that generated nearly 30,000 submissions from individuals and organizations. The Task Force looked internationally (e.g., Colorado, Washington State, Uruguay) to learn from jurisdictions that have legalized cannabis for non-medical purposes, and we drew lessons from the way governments in Canada have regulated tobacco and alcohol, and cannabis for medical purposes.”
Even someone not familiar with government officials, or the way governments work in general, can see that the task force went to great lengths to make sure they covered every possible base before issuing their report. No stone was left unturned and opinions were solicited from every possible source. Putting your name on a report that will be covered by every news outlet in the country and read by most federal officials who have the power to legalize marijuana in Canada is a big deal. Thoroughness is key.
The hallmarks of the report are safety and regulation. The task force sought to minimize any risks – real or perceived – that might result from marijuana legalization, especially for children.
The “Harms of Use”
Much is made in the report about minimizing the harms of marijuana use. This section alone contains over 2 dozen recommendations. Most address issues like advertising (comprehensive restrictions, similar to those placed on tobacco advertising), packaging of retail marijuana (opaque, re-sealable packaging that is childproof or child-resistant and that does not “appeal to children” and has a universal THC symbol and ample warnings for keeping these products out of the reach of children) and working with local and provincial governments to establish a system of taxation.
The most surprising part of the report for many was the very first recommendation:
“Set a national minimum age of purchase of 18, acknowledging the right of provinces and territories to harmonize it with their minimum age of purchase of alcohol.” The alcohol purchasing age in some provinces is 19. Most of those surprised by this were activists in the U.S.; states that have legalized recreational marijuana use so far have all set the minimum age at 21, and that looks like it will be the custom going forward.
Another interesting recommendation to “reduce harm” is this one: “Develop strategies to encourage consumption of less potent cannabis, including a price and tax scheme based on potency to discourage purchase of high-potency products.” This is the same strategy that has been used to discourage tobacco use and it has proved successful. After all, according to the laws of supply and demand, if you raise the price of something – all other things being equal – the demand will drop. But comparing marijuana to tobacco in such a wholesale manner is a slippery slope.
A slope which leads us to this recommendation: “Enable a flexible legislative framework that could adapt to new evidence to set rules for limits on THC or other components.” There is little evidence to suggest that more THC increases the “harm” that comes from cannabis; the report even acknowledges that there would have to be “new evidence”, but limiting THC content would just create a profitable black market for high-potency cannabis and concentrates to be sold in, removing them from the regulations that are the point of legalization to begin with.
A “Safe and Responsible Supply Chain”
In this section the report addresses the production of concentrates, which it recommends be regulated at the federal level, as well as using licenses to encourage the growth of small business in the industry and the implementation of a “seed-to-sale” tracking system.
The report also includes recommendations for provinces and municipalities on ways to regulate the distribution of legal cannabis, including setting restrictions on how close a retail shop can be to churches, schools, etc.
When you talk about the “supply chain” for cannabis, you have to include provisions for home growing. The task force addressed that as well, saying oversight and approval should be carried out by local authorities, but should follow some basic guidelines that include a maximum of four plants per residence.
Of course, there are two ways this limit can be looked at: 1) This sucks, the limit should be higher, states in the U.S. have higher limits, or 2) being allowed to grow 4 plants is a lot better than being able to grow zero. How a Canadian citizen sees it will depend on their individual circumstances, but the limit was likely kept on the low side to discourage bleed out of the supply into the international market and to discourage competition with retail businesses.
For the Safety and Protection of the Public
Even after legalization is fully implemented there will still be many things that are cannabis-related that will remain against the law, and the report contains a section that deals with those issues.
Among the recommendations is an expressed wish to avoid criminal prosecutions for “less serious offences” while maintaining focus on the prosecution of those who traffic marijuana illegally, whether within Canada or across the border, as well as trafficking to minors.
Possession and sales limit recommendations find their line in this section as well: “Implement a limit of 30 grams for the personal possession of non-medical dried cannabis in public with a corresponding sales limit for dried cannabis.” 30 grams is slightly over an ounce, for those who are metric-system impaired.
As far as driving under the influence of marijuana and how it should be handled, the task force basically recommends the creation of an entire system from the ground up to deal with the issue, including an education campaign, investments in new technology to determine impairment and research into the connection between THC blood levels and impairment in the hopes of being able to establish a per se limit for the amount of THC someone can have in their blood.
Despite the fact that it has been shown time and time again that the level of THC in one’s blood in no way speaks to their level of impairment, this is a road the Canadian government will likely go down in an effort to keep “stoned” drivers off the road.
As for Canada’s already established medical marijuana system, the task force acknowledged the need to keep a system for medical access in place while looking for ways to improve the current system, which may or may not include the eventual combination of both the medical and recreational industries into one system.
After five years of research the task force recommends that the federal government evaluate the medical system that is in place.
Building the System
“The successful implementation of a regulatory framework for cannabis will take time and require that governments meet a number of challenges with respect to capacity and infrastructure, oversight, co-ordination and communications.”
This is government official-speak for “it’s going to be a long, hard road.” The prohibition of cannabis means that the infrastructure that needs to be built should have been built long ago. But now it must all be put in place, basically from scratch.
Canadian lawmakers now have a blueprint to work from, which will make things somewhat easier. After all, the successful building of a house is greatly improved by having a floor plan, but you still need the materials, workers and know-how to be able to put it all together.
Sometime in the spring of 2017 lawmakers are expected to start the process that will lead to recreational legalization in Canada. Time will tell how many of the task force’s 80+ recommendations are heeded, but one thing is for sure: a lot will be learned on the road to legalization that Canadians now travel.