Jaime Watt

Policy - - In This Issue - Jaime Watt

Canada’s Patch­work of Pot

As the Trudeau gov­ern­ment’s July 2018 dead­line for the le­gal­iza­tion of marijuana looms, Cana­di­ans are be­gin­ning to fo­cus on the so­cial and eco­nomic im­pli­ca­tions of the change. As po­lit­i­cal strate­gist and pol­icy ad­vi­sor Jaime Watt writes, both the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and its pro­vin­cial coun­ter­parts have work to do to al­lay some se­ri­ous con­cerns be­fore next Canada Day.

Bill C- 45, Canada’s cannabis leg­is­la­tion, was tabled in the House of Com­mons last April, sig­nalling Prime Min­is­ter Trudeau’s com­mit­ment to pro­ceed­ing with le­gal­iza­tion. While the bill es­tab­lishes a strict frame­work for pro­duc­tion, sale and posses­sion, major is­sues such as dis­tri­bu­tion, en­force­ment and road safety have been left for pro­vin­cial and ter­ri­to­rial law­mak­ers.

Pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments have ex­pressed con­cerns about the July 2018 dead­line that was as­signed to them, but would be wrong to de­lay mean­ing­ful con­sul­ta­tion, plan­ning and prepa­ra­tion. Canada’s patch­work of com­pet­ing re­gional, de­mo­graphic, and cul­tural fac­tors will greatly im­pact the en­trance of le­gal recre­ational cannabis into the mar­ket.

The in­dus­try’s suc­cess or fail­ure will be based on the abil­ity of lo­cal de­ci­sion-mak­ers to work with pro­duc­ers and users to present a safe, le­git­i­mate, and fairly-reg­u­lated prod­uct.

Polling in­di­cates that Canadian prov­inces will face chal­lenges in this re­spect. Ac­cord­ing to Cannabis in Canada, Nav­i­ga­tor’s monthly on­line pub­lic opinion track­ing sur­vey of 1,200 par­tic­i­pants, Cana­di­ans hold sig­nif­i­cant reser­va­tions about the dis­rup­tive ef­fect re­tail store­fronts could bring to their com­mu­ni­ties. Seventy-three per cent of Cana­di­ans be­lieve that le­gal­iza­tion will un­clog the court sys­tem with need­less cases and pros­e­cu­tions for posses­sion of marijuana for recre­ational use. An equal num­ber be­lieve le­gal­iza­tion will pro­vide marijuana users ac­cess to qual­ity-con­trolled prod­ucts that meet gov­ern­ment re­quire­ments for strict pro­duc­tion, dis­tri­bu­tion, and sale.

De­spite this wide­spread un­der­stand­ing, con­cerns re­main as July 2018 nears.

Our polling in­di­cates that 44 per cent of Cana­di­ans currently support le­gal­iza­tion, 37 per cent op­pose. This lack of con­sen­sus sug­gests that both gov­ern­ments and pro­duc­ers have work to do. As a re­sult, the re­sponse of pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments will show their best at­tempts at re­spond­ing to th­ese con­cerns.

Cannabis in Canada polling tells us a great deal about th­ese mo­ti­vat­ing fac­tors.

For ex­am­ple, gov­ern­ment re­tail store fronts are the most pop­u­lar model with support from 56 per cent of Canadian re­spon­dents.

In On­tario, the Wynne gov­ern­ment, which faces re- elec­tion in June 2018, will be re­luc­tant to delve into any con­tro­ver­sial ini­tia­tives that dis­tract from key cam­paign pil­lars.

Our polling in­di­cates that 44 per cent of Cana­di­ans currently support le­gal­iza­tion, 37 per cent op­pose. This lack of con­sen­sus sug­gests that both gov­ern­ments and pro­duc­ers have work to do.

Gov­ern­ment re­tail out­lets ap­pear to be the route of least re­sis­tance. Their plan to dis­trib­ute through a gov­ern­ment- owned sys­tem and an on­linebased or­der ser­vice comes as no sur­prise. This model, they be­lieve, al­lows the gov­ern­ment to di­rectly man­age the out­put of le­gal recre­ational marijuana into the mar­ket­place in a way that is re­flec­tive of cur­rent pub­lic opinion, which is a major mo­ti­va­tor with less than eight months un­til On­tar­i­ans pass judg­ment on their cur­rent man­date.

The risk: if the gov­ern­ment’s net­work of store­fronts proves not to be con­sumer-friendly, black mar­ket pro­duc­ers and the cur­rent dis­pen­saries op­er­at­ing in major cities will con­tinue to thrive.

New Brunswick has taken a dif­fer­ent ap­proach. Pre­mier Brian Gal­lant faces re- elec­tion, and there­fore has been very vo­cal about his belief that the cannabis in­dus­try can drive eco­nomic growth. His gov­ern­ment has cre­ated a Crown cor­po­ra­tion to over­see sales, paired with two pri­vate cannabis busi­nesses, and is procur­ing bids for re­tail so­lu­tions.

By work­ing with es­tab­lished pro­duc­ers and mar­ket con­trib­u­tors, Gal­lant’s gov­ern­ment feels it can bal­ance so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity and pro­vide a con­sumer-friendly prod­uct at a fair price.

Athird ap­proach, which is ex­pected to be taken by Bri­tish Columbia’s re­cently elected NDP gov­ern­ment, will be forced to deal with the unique chal­lenge of de­vel­op­ing a le­gal frame­work in an en­vi­ron­ment where recre­ational marijuana is al­ready widely dis­trib­uted.

Re­mem­ber, the City of Van­cou­ver has pro­vided busi­ness li­censes to sev­eral ex­ist­ing dis­pen­saries. In­ter­est­ingly, only 46 per cent of Bri­tish Columbia res­i­dents support le­gal­iza­tion.

Un­der­stand­ing the po­ten­tial im­pact of il­le­gal dis­pen­saries currently op­er­at­ing in com­mu­ni­ties will in­flu­ence res­i­dents. This, of course, will be bal­anced with in­put from the ac­tive dis­pen­saries, their cus­tomers, and an­cil­lary busi­nesses that ad­vo­cate for a path to le­gal­iza­tion. Pre­mier John Hor­gan has ex­pressed an un­der­stand­ing of this bal­ance and has in­di­cated that ex­ist­ing dis­pen­saries will play a role in the prov­ince’s cannabis frame­work.

Re­gard­less of the prov­ince, proper train­ing for re­tail em­ploy­ees has emerged as a con­sis­tent pri­or­ity for Cana­di­ans. Seventy-four per cent support the in­tro­duc­tion of train­ing and cer­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­grams for marijuana re­tail­ers and 88 per cent be­lieve such pro­grams, if im­ple­mented, should be manda­tory.

Po­lit­i­cal sen­si­tiv­i­ties, stake­holder man­age­ment and ca­ter­ing to lo­cal en­vi­ron­ments will fac­tor in all three gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sions about how to im­ple­ment train­ing pro­grams.

An­other voter con­cern that Canadian prov­inces will have to con­front per­tains to the lo­ca­tion of store­fronts. While only 37 per cent of Cana­di­ans ac­tively op­pose the le­gal­iza­tion of marijuana, 50 per cent of all Cana­di­ans op­pose a pri­vately- owned recre­ational cannabis dis­pen­sary open­ing in their neigh­bour­hood. Talk about NIM­BY­ism.

All pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments will want to avoid any con­fronta­tion re­gard­ing con­cerns about prox­im­ity to schools and other com­mu­nity spa­ces. Prov­inces like Bri­tish Columbia will be ex­pected to de­velop rules to ad­dress th­ese con­cerns.

While th­ese evolv­ing con­cerns will in­flu­ence gov­ern­ment ac­tiv­ity in the com­ing months, ul­ti­mately, li­censed pro­duc­ers hold re­spon­si­bil­ity for their own suc­cesses and fail­ures.

After years of cam­paign­ing for le­gal­iza­tion, li­censed pro­duc­ers will be ac­tively scru­ti­nized by in­vestors, reg­u­la­tors and con­cerned mem­bers of the pub­lic. If in­dus­try lead­ers are un­able to adapt to a new reg­u­la­tory frame­work and scale up to meet de­mand, Canadian con­cerns about the im­pacts of le­gal­iza­tion are likely to worsen or re­main un­changed.

As gov­ern­ments do the heavy lift­ing, li­censed pro­duc­ers and other mar­ket par­tic­i­pants should be work­ing to­gether to es­tab­lish shared pri­or­i­ties and com­mu­ni­cate col­lec­tive com­mit­ment to re­spon­si­ble busi­ness prac­tices that ad­dress health and safety con­cerns, while un­lock­ing eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties for com­mu­ni­ties.

If Cana­di­ans do not have the con­fi­dence in qual­ity- con­trolled, reg­u­lated prod­ucts, both gov­ern­ments and in­dus­try will share the blame.

The path to­wards suc­cess­ful le­gal­iza­tion re­quires a col­lab­o­ra­tive and thought­ful ap­proach that builds con­fi­dence among Cana­di­ans. Par­ti­san pol­i­tics will in­evitably im­pact de­ci­sions on this sub­ject. How­ever, by un­der­stand­ing th­ese pres­sure points pro­duc­ers will suc­cess­fully set them­selves on a path to re­spond to lo­cal con­cerns and to mean­ing­fully par­tic­i­pate in a safe, le­git­i­mate, and fair­lyreg­u­lated en­vi­ron­ment.

Shutterstock photo

Mark Emery’s Cannabis Cul­ture store in Van­cou­ver is one of the many ven­dors in the area that sells marijuana and var­i­ous re­lated items.

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