Trans­form­ing a cul­ture: from pro­hi­bi­tion to ac­cep­tance

The Globe and Mail Metro (Ontario Edition) - - CANNABIS REPORT -

...we’re mak­ing it pos­si­ble for the 15 per cent or so of Cana­dian adults who say they use cannabis to move away from the risks associated with smok­ing.” Pierre Killeen is vice-pres­i­dent of gov­ern­ment re­la­tions at HEXO

As of Oc­to­ber, le­gal cannabis will be­come part of the Cana­dian land­scape. The way you feel about the shift, of course, de­pends on your per­spec­tive – con­sumers, in­vestors, law en­force­ment and health pro­fes­sion­als are all en­gag­ing in an­i­mated con­ver­sa­tions about the new nor­mal.

Yet, ac­cord­ing to Pierre Killeen, the vice-pres­i­dent of gov­ern­ment re­la­tions at HEXO (for­merly the Hy­dropothe­cary Cor­po­ra­tion), there are im­por­tant is­sues that are still largely over­looked in the pub­lic dis­cus­sion.

For ex­am­ple, he says, the health and safety ben­e­fits of a le­gal­ized cannabis reg­u­la­tory frame­work can­not be over­stated. To­day, the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple us­ing cannabis are in the dark about the na­ture of the prod­ucts they’re putting in their bod­ies. But prod­ucts to be sold through out­lets, such as those of the Bri­tish Columbia Liquor Dis­tri­bu­tion Branch and So­ciété des al­cools du Québec, must meet strin­gent safety and qual­ity as­sur­ance stan­dards.

Sim­i­larly, dosage is cur­rently a wild card that can range from “Is this oregano?” to off the charts. New stan­dards mean this will change, al­low­ing con­sumers to man­age in­take re­spon­si­bly, in the same way that al­co­hol com­par­i­son charts alert con­sumers to the dif­fer­ence be­tween a glass of light beer and a glass of tequila.

Just as im­por­tantly, he says, le­gal­iza­tion will change the cul­ture of pro­hi­bi­tion and con­sump­tion. “Most peo­ple think that cannabis is smoked. That is yes­ter­day’s il­licit mar­ket. We have a whole in­dus­try fo­cused on a fu­ture where it is con­sumed through other non-smok­ing means, such as sprays, ed­i­bles and bev­er­ages. From a pub­lic health per­spec­tive, we’re mak­ing it pos­si­ble for the 15 per cent or so of Cana­dian adults who say they use cannabis to move away from the risks associated with smok­ing.”

On a so­ci­etal level, tax rev­enue will have a pro­found im­pact on pub­lic ser­vice bud­gets. While the cost of pre­par­ing po­lice forces to iden­tify cannabis-im­paired driv­ers has been the fo­cus of much me­dia at­ten­tion, over­looked is the $300-mil­lion in tax rev­enue gen­er­ated by cannabis sales in Washington state last year alone. “At a time when pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments across the coun­try are chal­lenged to pro­vide health care and other ser­vices to an ag­ing pop­u­la­tion, this is an im­por­tant new source of rev­enue,” says Mr. Killeen.

Fur­ther, while more re­cent fig­ures are un­avail­able, the 2002 Re­port of the Se­nate Spe­cial Com­mit­tee on Il­le­gal Drugs stated that the an­nual cost of drug en­force­ment in Canada was es­ti­mated to be be­tween $700-mil­lion and $1-bil­lion. (In 1999, 43 per cent of drug-re­lated charges were for pos­ses­sion of cannabis.)

Eco­nom­i­cally, the le­gal­iza­tion of cannabis will ben­e­fit many parts of Canada that need new in­dus­try the most: small, ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties such as Mas­son-Angers in ru­ral Gatineau, Que­bec, where HEXO, a li­censed pro­ducer listed un­der Canada’s MMPR frame­work, is lo­cated. “Our growth rate is so steep that when­ever I tour some­one from the me­dia around one of our fa­cil­i­ties in Mas­son-Angers, they com­ment on the fact that we have so many young peo­ple work­ing – chemists, ac­coun­tants, lawyers, project man­agers and en­gi­neers,” re­ports Mr. Killeen.

Meet­ing the chal­lenges in­her­ent in a suc­cess­ful tran­si­tion from pro­hi­bi­tion to le­gal­iza­tion at this mag­ni­tude re­quires ex­ten­sive pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion, he says. “Le­gal­iza­tion is not the same as so­cial ac­cep­tance. We wouldn’t be hav­ing these con­ver­sa­tions if it weren’t for coura­geous med­i­cal pa­tients who went to the courts for their right to con­sume cannabis free of crim­i­nal sanc­tion, and a prime min­is­ter and po­lit­i­cal party that ful­filled a cam­paign prom­ise.

“For the Cana­dian cannabis in­dus­try and for Cana­di­ans, Oc­to­ber 2018 is not the end of our jour­ney. Rather, it marks the next stage in the tran­si­tion to the cannabis econ­omy – that of nor­mal­iza­tion,” Mr. Killeen says.

SUP­PLIED

HEXO’s fa­cil­i­ties in Gatineau, Que­bec.

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