Strictly-reg­u­lated le­gal pot en­vi­ron­ment ex­pected

The Queens County Advance - - OPINION - Jim Vib­ert

Nova Sco­tians think­ing that next July they’ll be able to nip down to the corner pot shop when­ever they want, might want to chill un­til they see the prov­ince’s plan.

Cannabis will be le­gal next sum­mer, but the rules and reg­u­la­tions are yet to come and Nova Sco­tia, along with the other At­lantic Prov­inces, will cre­ate tightly-con­trolled, strictly-reg­u­lated en­vi­ron­ments.

Last week, the prov­ince wrapped up its on­line sur­vey ask­ing Nova Sco­tian for opin­ions on a va­ri­ety of ques­tions about cannabis con­trol and ac­cess.

The provin­cial law and reg­u­la­tions will be con­sis­tent with Jus­tice Min­is­ter Mark Furey’s state­ment that the top pri­or­ity “is to pro­tect the health and safety of Nova Sco­tians.”

Le­gal­iza­tion is a fed­eral de­ci­sion, but it falls to the prov­inces to de­ter­mine the char­ac­ter of the trade, in­clud­ing mar­ket­ing, sales, dis­tri­bu­tion and tax­a­tion.

Like most prov­inces, the Nova Sco­tia gov­ern­ment will po­si­tion its reg­u­la­tory regime as all about health, with rev­enue-gen­er­a­tion down the pri­or­ity list.

The prov­ince will hold a mo­nop­oly on sales and take its cut off the top in taxes. But, whether the gov­ern­ment will be the di­rect seller or will con­tract and li­cence pri­vate ven­dors, has yet to be de­ter­mined.

That’s a crit­i­cal de­ci­sion for pot shop op­er­a­tions that have popped up around the prov­ince, os­ten­si­bly to serve med­i­cal mar­i­juana users. Some of those out­lets are said to be tak­ing ad­van­tage of re­laxed en­force­ment of ex­ist­ing laws to ex­pand their mar­kets early. Many an­tic­i­pate more busi­ness when pot is le­gal­ized.

They may want to avoid longterm leases, un­less they have other busi­ness plans for their store­front lo­ca­tions.

Health ad­vo­cates favour di­rect sales from gov­ern­ment-op­er­ated stores – the Nova Sco­tia Liquor Com­mis­sion model – as the safest way to con­trol ac­cess to pot and specif­i­cally keep it out of the hands of young peo­ple.

New Brunswick has al­ready de­cided to cre­ate a Crown cor­po­ra­tion to over­see and man­age the pot trade in that prov­ince, and the four At­lantic pre­miers want re­gional con­sis­tency.

While di­rect sales by gov­ern­ment would cre­ate start-up lo­gis­ti­cal and fa­cil­ity costs, that model would also guar­an­tee the prov­ince 100 per cent re­tail profit mar­gins.

Re­gard­less of the sales model, prov­inces will con­trol ev­ery­thing from store lo­ca­tions to hours of op­er­a­tions.

There have been sug­ges­tions that the Nova Sco­tia Liquor Com­mis­sion might ab­sorb the cannabis prod­uct-line, but health ad­vo­cates don’t favour co-lo­ca­tion of pot and booze.

In fact, the Pub­lic Health As­so­ci­a­tion of Nova Sco­tia (PHANS) and other health ad­vo­cacy groups are pro­mot­ing stand-alone, sin­gle-prod­uct cannabis stores, to en­sure peo­ple are not in­tro­duced to pot while look­ing for some­thing else.

As for where pot can be con­sumed, and by whom, sources say the prov­ince is lean­ing to­ward a le­gal age of 19, the same as for al­co­hol con­sump­tion, al­though Nova Sco­tia’s chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer of health Rob Strang has rec­om­mended 21.

The health ad­vo­cacy groups sup­port Strang.

Who­ever runs them, stores won’t be lo­cated any­where near schools or other places kids and ado­les­cents reg­u­larly con­gre­gate.

Pot smok­ing will be re­stricted to those ar­eas where to­bacco is per­mit­ted today. In fact, to­bacco smok­ing and va­p­ing in pub­lic places, like side­walks, may be re­stricted, to elim­i­nate pot from those ar­eas and main­tain con­sis­tency.

Cannabis brands won’t be per­mit­ted to spon­sor events, and ad­ver­tis­ing will be lim­ited. Prod­ucts will al­most cer­tainly be sold in un­ap­peal­ing pack­ages, adorned with health warn­ings, like cig­a­rettes. Flavoured, can­died or other prod­uct vari­a­tions that would ap­peal to young users will be ver­boten.

Health ad­vo­cates are call­ing for child-proof pack­ag­ing, which could present prob­lems for reg­u­lar users of any age.

The ad­vo­cacy groups, in­clud­ing PHANS, the Cen­tre for Ad­dic­tion and Men­tal Health, the Cana­dian Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion, the Cana­dian Pe­di­atric So­ci­ety and the IWK Health Cen­tre, want the prov­ince to track the so­cial and health im­pact of le­gal mar­i­juana and make cor­rec­tions as nec­es­sary.

The same groups want govern­ments to ear­mark a por­tion of pot rev­enue for health ini­tia­tives and re­search.

When pot is le­gal in the At­lantic Canada, it won’t be like the wild west Colorado ex­pe­ri­ence. Govern­ments will take a much more ac­tive and re­stric­tive role. Not un­ex­pect­edly, le­gal­iza­tion in Canada will be a gov­ern­ment enterprise, while in the USA it is all about pri­vate enterprise.

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