Cannabis: The fi­nal count­down

Policy - - Before The Bell | From The Editor - BY DALE SMITH

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.”

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