Cannabis: The final countdown
With recreational cannabis being a hundred days — more or less —away from being legalized in Canada, Before the Bell checked in with stakeholders about what the outstanding issues are. There was fascinating debate but no consensus as to whether Canada, which will be the first G7 country to legalize, is ready for marijuana to come out of the shadows.
The panel met the morning of a hair-raising day for the Trudeau government as it shored up support for its marijuana legalization bill in the Senate, where the Conservatives had mounted serious opposition the bill. Senators ultimately voted 44 to 29 to pass the bill, which now heads to five different committees for further study.
Hours earlier on Before the Bell, Kelly Coulter, founder of the NORML Women’s Alliance of Canada, expressed no residual doubts about Canada’s readiness. “Canada is not only ready, but Canada has a global obligation,” said the author and commentator. “We have a healthy medical system in place, we’re ready to transition. Other countries are following our lead.”
Coulter noted that one of the most valuable outcomes of legalization will be medical research that has been stymied by illegality. That lack of science, however, is why some believe Canada isn’t ready.
“Frankly, the science isn’t there,” said Chris Smillie, Principal at Tactix government relations. “We haven’t been able go through a process in Canada where we’ve properly studied the substance and its effects on young people, old people, and people in between, and that’s because it’s been an illegal substance.”
While police may not be ready, a lot of entrepreneurs are, according to Michael Curran of Great River Media, Publisher of the Ottawa Business Journal. Curran noted companies like Canopy Growth in Smiths Falls, Ontario, which converted the former Hershey chocolate factory into a marijuana facility.
“That’s just one example of a company that is looking to hire hundreds of people right now, and it’s going to create a big, big industry,” said Curran, who noted that Canopy is Canada’s biggest licensed marijuana company, with a market capitalization of $6.5 billion. According to Statistics Canada, the current marijuana industry sits at $5.7 billion in Canada before legalization, compared to $22 billion for alcohol.
“Growing marijuana in Canada is now a bigger business than growing tobacco,” said Curran. “This is going to be a big deal, and the bigger opportunity isn’t in this country – it’s on a global basis.”
That said, Smillie noted that our trading partners could put a damper on Canadian companies because the substance is still illegal in their countries. “Canadian companies won’t be able to list on the New York stock exchange if they’re engaged in this activity,” said Smillie. “This is a major damper on potential investors. Canada is a relatively small economy, and a couple of decisions from a couple of our key allies not to deal with us because of this product, and Canada could be in real trouble.”
When it comes to workplace issues, there remains a great deal of confusion because provincial legislation can include broad definitions of what a workplace is, and because the issue of levels of impairment remain unclear without further research. Nevertheless, Coulter notes that impairment is impairment.
“We’ve progressed with alcohol too,” Coulter noted.
That the legislation allows for some homegrowth could have consequences for real estate and the rental market, according to Michael Bourque, President & CEO of the Canadian Real Estate Association.
“Because of the amount of humidity in the air, the hazards around re-wiring electrical, and plumbing — you can ruin a house very quickly by growing plants,” said Bourque. “These are not house plants. The humidity from a marijuana plant is equivalent to six other plants.” Bourque says that provinces should have regulations in place before people are allowed to home-grow.
Former Conservative federal public works minister Christian Paradis, now senior vice president of strategic development, security services, with Garda World, said that in all of the consultations conducted by the government, nobody asked about securing the value chain.
“There are production facilities where you have to provide security services,” said Paradis. “Then you have to transport cannabis from the production to the storage facility, and you need surveillance at the storage facility. Then you need transportation to the distribution facilities, with access controls.”
The need for accurate information as part of public education is also key consideration, according to Rita Notarandrea, CEO of the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction.
“Ten percent of our population reported past-year use of cannabis,” said Notarandrea. “When we talk about youth, 21 percent. When we talk about 45 to 65, 23 percent. The use is already occurring.”
Notarandrea noted that there remain a lot of misconceptions in the public, especially when it comes to driving, as some people believe that they drive better while high. As well, many parents may not understand how to have necessary discussions with their children because they may not realize their own biases will create an atmosphere of accusation or judgment.
“We have to be cognizant of the fact that youth are using,” says Notarandrea. “Preventing use is part of it, delaying use is the other component of it, and talking about frequency and quantity. We want to ensure that our youth, if they’re going to use, that they use responsibly.”
Senator Larry Smith, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, said that the Conservatives in the upper chamber were concerned that there hasn’t been enough time to have a proper education program in place before the government legalizes.
“This is an opportunity to get the education issue and the awareness issue done early,” said Smith. “We don’t see that happening. We have a government that’s ahead of itself.” He added that they are looking at issues related to Indigenous communities, particularly in the North and remote communities.
“[They] don’t have the facilities, they don’t have the technology, and they don’t have the police who are trained properly to deal with this issue,” said Smith. “These people are starting off behind the 8-ball.”