Legalizing Marijuana: How To Get It Right

Edited By: Joy Jiang

 

On Wednesday 15th November, a panelist discussion was held at the University of Toronto on the topic of legalizing marijuana, specifically on how the Government plan on getting it right. So, where do we begin?

For starters, the event was labelled as a "discovery" and not a "statement" event. Attendees were not there to get into heated arguments about Marijuana or argument about if legalizing it was the right or wrong decision. Rather, this event was held for informative purposes to educate attendees on what legalizing Marijuana means for Canada. 

The evening began with MP Bill Blair outlining the parliamentary plan. He stated time and time again that the intention of the legalization of marijuana was so that the government could do a better job of regulating and restricting the access children had to this product. He claimed that Canada has the highest level of child cannabis use, and the only way this issue can be tackled is if recreational marijuana is made legal.

Bill Blair further said that the social and health harms associated to cannabis need to be addressed and could only be done so through legislation. To quote him, "In an environment of prohibition you can not regulate cannabis.” Continuing with the importance of preventing social and health harms, Blair said that anyone caught with marijuana under the age of 19 will not be given a criminal sanction. They will receive no criminal record or ticket. Instead, there will be a focus on prevention and education of the youth on this product. 

Rounding up the parliamentary plan, the MP outlined the benefits of legalizing Marijuana which were that the purity of cannabis could be verified, cannabis dealers could be held accountable and the market of cannabis could no longer be based in a criminal enterprise which, for the most part, it currently is.

Touching upon the hot topic of taxation, Bill Blair said that the approach Canada is taking is far from California’s. He claims that the revenue made out of the Marijuana market will go towards further research within this field to better the regulation. Furthermore, he said that investments do need to be made to assure that resources are available to the public, and so federally raised cash would go towards that. 

Next up, there was the Honourable Yasir Naqvi, who got into more specifics when it came to the bills that are scheduled to pass in July 2018. He outlined four main pillars legalization revolves around and they are:

  • Protecting the youth and the vulnerable. 
  • Focusing on public health.
  • Focusing on road safety when the product is legalized.
  • Dealing with the illicit market.

To give attendees a real understanding of what legalizing marijuana will look like, Naqvi compared this product to alcohol and tobacco use. Just as the legal age to use those substances is 19, the same will apply with cannabis. Just as there are certain places where these substances can be consumed, the same will apply with cannabis. As it stands, legalizing marijuana will mean that the only place it can be consumed is within the confinements of one’s home. His final remarks concluded that, as is the case with alcohol and tobacco, there will need to be community responsibility and awareness when it comes to cannabis. 

The third speaker was Dr. Kwame McKenzie, who offered a more health related perspective on marijuana. His main points were that legalizing cannabis meant that there would be more people using this product long-term and that cannabis itself does not step in for another substance like tobacco or alcohol. Dr McKenzie warned that the public will have to be careful about the amount of cannabis that is consumed and how it is consumed. For example, citizens must be careful if it is used alongside tobacco, alcohol or both. He emphasized that as long as the government did whatever they could to protect the population, they might just get it right. 

The final speaker was Michael Lickver, a lawyer who has created a cannabis finance company. He provides funds to licensed cannabis producers to carry out their production. His perspective is one that is more commercial than political, and he spoke about the market cannabis producers will have to contend with once it becomes legalized. What he is alluding to here are the guidelines marijuana producers will have to face when it comes to promoting their product. Just like tobacco, cannabis will have to be contained within plain packaging, accompanied by warning labels. Michael expressed how this will be a challenge for cannabis companies who will have to be extra creative, but that as long as the product is solid gold, there will be success. 

After being enlightened by what each panelist had to say on the topic of marijuana, the floor opened up to questions. Below are just a handful of questions that were asked at the event alongside their responses. 

Q&A

Is this too much too fast?

You have to start somewhere, and your start may not be perfect but it's a start. We have created a cannabis secretariat to work with ministers of all fields that this links to like health, children etc. So hopefully that will keep things smooth. Keep in mind that this was a promise made in 2015. Work on this has been going on for two years. 

There is still so much we don’t know. Like how long do you wait after smoking to be able to drive or go to work. My question is when will the campaigns roll out educating the public on this product? 

1/3 of adults aged 18-35 use cannabis, so the chances of someone going to work high are high already. Campaigns on impaired driving will begin in the next few weeks. Over the new year more campaigns will appear. Remember that this needs to be looked at as a process and not an event! This requires constant progress and supervision to make sure that if things are not working, and in turn they will be revised.

This is a sector that investors see a lot of potential in. How are you (Michael) so confident in this sector?

My confidence comes from the demand and the popularity of cannabis. This legalization means unlocking shelf space for a product that has been used for years! Everything so far has been within the medical market but it will soon expand. And the excitement for this comes from millions more of customers. There is currently a demand of 600 million grams of cannabis, with a projected 1.2 billion gram demand once it becomes legal. 

How do you build a brand in this market when there are guidelines for packaging? 

For alcohol you see flashy adverts but for cannabis what will they be able to do? It will be all about separating yourself from a black market product. It will be extremely difficult. 

How are you going to push forward a legal product vs. a much flashier black product? Why not work with the illegal dispensaries to bridge the trust gap and take advantage of the access they have to the public? 

There is definitely the advantage of price point competitiveness and the consumer will know where their product is coming from. So, why would you not come to a legal dispensary? As for the second part of your question, Governments don’t work with illegal industries. They just don’t. The law is very clear. You don’t condone illegal practices. The illicit market does not follow any rules. Bringing it inside the law has risks. Will they uphold integrity? It's problematic. I should make it very clear that only one specific type of cannabis will be legal, only that which is produced by a licensed producer and sold in a legal way. That is the only thing that will be legal. 

Where can it be used?

Restrictions mean that you can use it in your home. This is based on a combination of tobacco and alcohol restrictions. For medicinal marijuana, employers have a duty to accommodate that medication. Furthermore, you can smoke medical marijuana where tobacco can be consumed. The edible is not going to be legalized just yet. There is room in the legislation to deal with it. 

 

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