Lo­cal MLA wor­ried about pot le­gal­iza­tion

Gov­ern­ment, busi­ness com­mu­nity and ad­vo­cacy groups have var­ied opin­ions

The News (New Glasgow) - - FRONT PAGE - BY SAM MAC­DON­ALD THE NEWS

As the dead­line for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s move to le­gal­ize mar­i­juana in July 2018 ap­proaches, users, stake­hold­ers, busi­ness peo­ple and politicians in­volved in the mat­ter of­fer a va­ri­ety of con­cerns.

Hank Mer­chant, CEO of HBB Med­i­cal, a med­i­cal mar­i­juana dis­pen­sary, wel­comes the in­tro­duc­tion of guide­lines and reg­u­la­tions on the sale of mar­i­juana, “be­cause there are peo­ple who have no qualms about op­er­at­ing out­side the law.”

“We, as med­i­cal mar­i­juana dis­pen­saries, don’t do that,” Mer­chant added.

Mer­chant hopes all lev­els of gov­ern­ment will take mea­sures that are re­spon­si­ble and pru­dent when go­ing about le­gal­iz­ing pot.

As a seller of medic­i­nal mar­i­juana, Mer­chant said there are sev­eral cri­te­ria his busi­ness must meet, to be able legally to sell mar­i­juana in Canada.

Dis­pen­saries are not per­mit­ted near schools or pub­lic gath­er­ing lo­ca­tions, and have to be at least 300 me­tres away from them. Dis­pen­saries are for­bid­den to be within 300 me­tres of other dis­pen­saries. Mer­chant noted that dis­pen­saries are re­quired by law to be wheel­chair ac­ces­si­ble; need to be a cer­tain square footage and sub­ject to reg­u­lar sur­veil­lance.

HBB Med­i­cal fol­lows the same guide­lines for dis­pen­saries in Colorado, Washington and Vancouver, Mer­chant said. He hopes that will be the stan­dard to which prov­inces as­pire.

“You have doc­tors who rec­og­nize the im­por­tance of medic­i­nal mar­i­juana as a med­i­ca­tion. Those doc­tors have to iden­tify pa­tients and clients by screen­ing them,” said Mer­chant. “The first step is to get a pre­scrip­tion by a med­i­cal doc­tor.”

One ma­jor dis­tinc­tion be­tween HBB Med­i­cal and the kinds of recre­ational mar­i­juana busi­nesses ex­pected to ar­rive next sum­mer, is that “there needs to be a need,” Mer­chant said.

Be­fore a per­son can be sold mar­i­juana at dis­pen­saries, a spe­cific med­i­cal ne­ces­sity must be present – which won’t be the case with recre­ational mar­i­juana when it’s le­gal­ized.

“You can’t just walk into the store and buy a prod­uct un­less you have a pre­scrip­tion,” said Mer­chant, whose busi­ness pro­vides medic­i­nal mar­i­juana to 12,000 clients.

Mer­chant noted that al­though the laws gov­ern­ing the sale of mar­i­juana will change, he doesn’t an­tic­i­pate it hav­ing too much of an ef­fect on his busi­ness, since he is li­censed to sell medic­i­nal mar­i­juana – some­thing still gov­erned on the fed­eral level, and for which laws are al­ready in place.

“Right now, we’re cer­tainly in the grey area. It’s not black and white – it’s grey,” said Mer­chant. “We’re thank­ful to be al­lowed to con­tinue to serve clients.”

While fed­eral laws gov­ern the sale of medic­i­nal mar­i­juana, laws re­lat­ing to the sale of recre­ational mar­i­juana will be de­ter­mined provin­cially — and in that case, there is still some uncer­tainty in Nova Sco­tia.

Karla MacFar­lane, MLA for Pic­tou and op­po­si­tion jus­tice critic, sees a leg­isla­tive storm loom­ing on the hori­zon for Nova Sco­tia. MacFar­lane said there are still too many un­knowns, in terms of the changes the gov­ern­ment has to im­ple­ment.

“We’re deal­ing with a colos­sal so­cial, jus­tice and eco­nomic is­sue for so­ci­ety,” said MacFar­lane, who added that the provin­cial gov­ern­ment has been ”drag­ging its feet” on rolling out a plan.

MacFar­lane com­mended On­tario, the first — and only — prov­ince to roll out a strat­egy for le­gal­ized mar­i­juana, while in the case of Nova Sco­tia, “we were told there would be con­sul­ta­tions held towards the end of the sum­mer, or in early fall.”

MacFar­lane wants to see an out­line of Nova Sco­tia’s plan, so that stake­hold­ers and the pub­lic are part of a con­ver­sa­tion. She said she finds the ab­sence of a rig­or­ous and thor­ough plan trou­bling, at this stage.

“Dr. Robert Strang, our chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer of health, said ver­ba­tim, that he is con­cerned about the July 2018 dead­line,” said MacFar­lane, em­pha­siz­ing that there needs to be more in place.

Fol­low­ing a re­quest from The News, the Depart­ment of Jus­tice is­sued the fol­low­ing state­ment Fri­day: “As we con­tinue to work to­ward the le­gal­iza­tion of cannabis, the health and safety of Nova Sco­tians, es­pe­cially chil­dren and youth, is our top pri­or­ity. Cannabis le­gal­iza­tion is com­plex and will have sig­nif­i­cant im­pacts on prov­inces, ter­ri­to­ries and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. There is a lot of work to do and many de­ci­sions to make in the com­ing months around the dis­tri­bu­tion model, health and safety, taxation and the leg­isla­tive steps we need to take to be ready for July 2018. We will be look­ing at var­i­ous op­tions and will be con­sult­ing with Nova Sco­tians this fall.”

MacFar­lane con­tended that that far too many ques­tions re­main unan­swered. These in­clude ques­tions per­tain­ing to youth pos­ses­sion and reper­cus­sions; where peo­ple will be al­lowed to smoke it; charges for vi­o­lat­ing those laws; the min­i­mum age – and where the prof­its from reg­u­lated sales of cannabis will go.

“The gov­ern­ment has done noth­ing to in­di­cate they have info go­ing for­ward on this,” said MacFar­lane. “They haven’t even set up dates for con­sul­ta­tions. All they have is a link to the fed­eral in­for­ma­tion on (their web­site).”

The best way for the prov­ince to move for­ward with a plan is cau­tiously, MacFar­lane stated, adding, “Let’s get it right. We don’t want to rush through it. We just fin­ished the elec­tion, and we have lots of time.”

She also al­luded to a num­ber of po­lice groups op­pos­ing the le­gal­iza­tion of mar­i­juana by July 2018, say­ing, “po­lice com­mis­sion­ers are fed­er­ally out do­ing in­ter­views, say­ing there’s no way po­lice can be ready for July 2018.”

MacFar­lane’s com­ments re­fer to rep­re­sen­ta­tives of po­lice ser­vices across Canada in­clud­ing the Canadian As­so­ci­a­tion of Chiefs of Po­lice, On­tario Provin­cial Po­lice and Saska­toon Po­lice Ser­vice — hav­ing said they will not be pre­pared to en­force any new laws re­lat­ing to le­gal­ized mar­i­juana, if those laws are im­ple­mented by July 2018.

The Canadian Psy­cho­log­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion (CPA) has raised con­cerns of its own. In a me­dia re­lease, the CPA rec­om­mended sev­eral steps to mit­i­gate harm.

The CPA cau­tions that cannabis, be­ing the most com­monly used il­licit drug among peo­ple aged 15-24, is po­ten­tially harm­ful among ado­les­cent users, be­ing associated with im­paired ver­bal learn­ing, mem­ory and at­ten­tion. The CPA also stated it has been associated with dis­or­ders such as psy­chosis, de­pres­sion and bipo­lar dis­or­der.

David Teplin, chair of the CPA task force on cannabis, rec­om­mended the fed­eral gov­ern­ment in­vest in more re­search on mar­i­juana, adding there are gaps in what is known.

An­other in­vest­ment rec­om­mended by the CPA is in harm re­duc­tion ap­proaches to treat­ing prob­lem­atic use of mar­i­juana.

Dr. Karen Co­hen, CEO of the CPA, said ev­i­dence-based psy­cho­log­i­cal treat­ments for men­tal and sub­stance used dis­or­ders in Canada have al­ways been a con­cern for the CPA, be­cause of a lack of re­sources avail­able for them.

“The le­gal­iza­tion of cannabis will bring about in­creased tax rev­enue for gov­ern­ments that could be al­lo­cated to pre­ven­tion and treat­ment of those com­mon dis­or­ders,” said Co­hen.

While fed­eral laws gov­ern the sale of medic­i­nal mar­i­juana, laws re­lat­ing to the sale of recre­ational mar­i­juana will be de­ter­mined provin­cially — and in that case, there is still some uncer­tainty in Nova Sco­tia. FILE PHOTO

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