If we want to as­sume a global lead­er­ship role, there’s no room for grey ar­eas in Canada’s cannabis sec­tor

The Globe and Mail (Alberta Edition) - - NEWS - JEANETTE VANDERMAREL

Cana­di­ans need a con­trolled and reg­u­lated sys­tem to en­sure we keep cannabis out of the il­le­gal mar­ket and away from chil­dren

In the 19th cen­tury it was gold rushes in Bri­tish Columbia. In the 20th cen­tury it was the dis­cov­ery of oil in Al­berta. In the 21st cen­tury, it will be the growth of cannabis across Canada.

For good and bad, Canada has been shaped by a se­ries of sin­gu­lar, trans­for­ma­tional events. In each case, the eco­nomic boom and en­su­ing so­cial im­pact has chal­lenged Cana­dian so­ci­ety and tested the abil­ity of gov­ern­ments and courts to re­cal­i­brate poli­cies, laws and ex­pec­ta­tions.

Nowhere is this more ap­par­ent than with the pend­ing le­gal­iza­tion of recre­ational cannabis in Canada. Not sur­pris­ingly, there has been tremen­dous fo­cus on the ap­proval date for Bill C-45. But as that day ap­proaches, it’s in­creas­ingly clear how much re­mains to be re­solved – and the risk im­posed by the com­pli­cated process that still lies ahead.

Cur­rently, Canada has a unique op­por­tu­nity to po­si­tion it­self – and fed­er­ally li­censed le­gal Cana­dian cannabis com­pa­nies – as world lead­ers in a global sec­tor that is fore­cast to be worth $60-bil­lion a year by 2028. Just as we lever­aged our early ex­per­tise and ex­pe­ri­ence in min­ing and en­ergy af­ter the ini­tial booms in those sec­tors, we can do the same with cannabis. If, that is, we get it right.

One of the pri­mary chal­lenges is the in­evitable urge to ap­pease all the dif­fer­ent in­dus­try play­ers’ in­ter­ests in the ini­tial sweep of leg­is­la­tion. If we want to as­sume that global lead­er­ship role, there is no room for con­tin­ued grey ar­eas in Canada’s cannabis sec­tor.

Colorado pro­vides a pow­er­ful ex­am­ple of what can go wrong when le­gal­iza­tion is done too broadly and too quickly. Since cannabis was le­gal­ized there in 2014, the state has spent con­sid­er­able time re-reg­u­lat­ing and try­ing to claw back the ini­tial scope of the law in­clud­ing changes to pack­ag­ing, zon­ing, con­tam­i­nant test­ing and staff train­ing.

That may mean that Canada needs to move to­ward cannabis leg­is­la­tion with fore­sight in en­vi­sion­ing the fu­ture. Cana­di­ans need a con­trolled and reg­u­lated in­dus­try to en­sure we keep cannabis out of the il­le­gal mar­ket and away from chil­dren. To ap­ply the long-time mantra of cannabis con­sumers: Start low and go slow.

It’s es­sen­tial, for ex­am­ple, to be fully com­mit­ted from the very out­set to elim­i­nate the boom­ing il­le­gal mar­ket that nei­ther ad­heres to fed­eral gov­ern­ment stan­dards of qual­ity and safety, nor mon­i­tors who has ac­cess to cannabis. Canada is cre­at­ing a new in­dus­try with tax pay­ing le­gal com­pa­nies and tak­ing em­ploy­ees out of the un­der­ground econ­omy into real jobs.

One of the proposed changes in Bill C-45 is the right to grow four cannabis plants per res­i­dence. In the right hor­ti­cul­tural hands, a cul­ti­va­tor claim­ing home­grown sta­tus along with the al­lowed limit of four plants, could pro­duce up to thou­sands of dol­lars-worth of cannabis a year. This will likely find it’s way to the il­le­gal mar­ket.

Then there is the is­sue of dis­tri­bu­tion. Yes, the prov­inces have shared their blueprints for re­tail­ing recre­ational cannabis. But what will hap­pen to the large num­ber of il­le­gal dis­pen­saries – and their black mar­ket on­line coun­ter­parts? Who will crack down on these op­er­a­tors and how con­sis­tently will the rules be en­forced?

The issues also ex­tend to where cannabis can be legally con­sumed. Given the grow­ing trend of liv­ing in high-rise con­do­mini­ums and apart­ments, how will the air be fil­tered to en­sure that cannabis smoke doesn’t en­ter other house­holds – es­pe­cially those where there are chil­dren? Le­gal­iza­tion may lie in fed­eral hands, but many of the cru­cial de­ci­sions that af­fect the use of recre­ational cannabis fall un­der mu­nic­i­pal and pro­vin­cial ju­ris­dic­tion. And as we al­ready know from ex­pe­ri­ence, that can lead to very un­even mar­ket man­age­ment and en­force­ment.

To fully cap­i­tal­ize on Canada’s pos­i­tive rep­u­ta­tion and in­ter­na­tional “brand” these de­tails need to be ad­dressed – or at the very least con­sid­ered. If we want to show the world how to do this right and as­sume a lead­er­ship role, it’s worth tak­ing the time to en­sure that as many loop­holes as pos­si­ble are an­tic­i­pated and blocked. Canada can and should con­tinue to be the role model to the world for a re­spon­si­ble cannabis in­dus­try.

If we al­low the urge to be ev­ery­thing to all peo­ple all at once, pend­ing leg­is­la­tion could cost us our po­ten­tial dom­i­na­tion of a lu­cra­tive in­ter­na­tional in­dus­try.

Given the gold-rush men­tal­ity per­vad­ing the cannabis sec­tor right now – and this ap­plies to in­di­vid­u­als, com­pa­nies and gov­ern­ments – there’s an over­rid­ing sense of ur­gency to move ahead with le­gal­iza­tion.

It is time to le­gal­ize recre­ational cannabis, but we have to get it right.

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