Canadian Parliament plans to take on the task of legalizing marijuana in the spring of 2017. A national task force, called the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation, has made 80 recommendations as how to go forward dealing with the legalization process.
The recreational legalization would make Canada the first G7 country to legalize the herb since its early 20th century prohibition.
On December 13, 2016, the task force published it’s report.
The organization sought council from provincial, territorial and municipal governments, legal and medical experts and law enforcement representatives, as well as representatives in other jurisdictions where recreational cannabis has been legalized, including those outside of Canada (Colorado, Washington and Uruguay). The force has received more than 30,000 responses, both from organizations and individuals, through their online public consultation process.
Additionally, they retrieved large amounts of data compiled through Canada’s experience with regulating alcohol and tobacco, as well as the existing regulatory framework for medical cannabis.
Some key recommendations from the Report are summarized below:
- The production of cannabis and its derivative products should be regulated by the Federal Government, in a similar fashion to how the Federal Government presently regulates the production of medical cannabis.
- This is generally perceived as a big win for the 36 currently licensed producers of medical cannabis in Canada that have gone through the rigorous approval process under the existing medical cannabis regime, which has proven to be a barrier to entry into the medical cannabis market.
- The recommended minimum age for purchasing cannabis be set at 18.
- While this is on the lower end of the suggested range of ages, the Task Force is of the view that setting the legal age for purchase too high would not deter youth from gaining access to cannabis through the illicit market. Instead, the Report recommends that provincial and territorial governments should engage youth in education programs to discourage and delay the use of cannabis.
- Because the provinces and territories will have power over the distribution and sale of cannabis, like they do over alcohol and tobacco, each province and territory will be free to increase the minimum age above 18.
- The Task Force recommends allowing personal cultivation of cannabis for non-medical purposes subject to oversight and approval by local authorities.
- Personal cultivation should be limited to four plants per residence, with a height limit of 100 cm per plant. Again, it will be interesting to watch how this recommendation unfolds in Parliamentary debates on the proposed legislation and we suspect that there will be lengthy discussions on this topic. If this recommendation makes its way into the legal regime for recreational cannabis, it will also be interesting to see how the restrictions on the number and size of plants will actually be monitored and/or policed.
- The amount of non-medical cannabis that individuals are permitted to carry on their person in a public place should be limited to 30 grams.
- Comprehensive restrictions on the packaging, branding and marketing of cannabis and its derivative products should be implemented.
- The packaging ought to be plain and clear and include only minimal information on the labels, including price, company name, strain, and levels of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (“THC”) and cannabidiol.
- Any promotion or marketing that is allowed should be restricted in a similar fashion as with tobacco, alcohol and pharmaceutical products. The Report also speaks to restrictions on sponsorship, branding and endorsement, which is an avenue certain licensed producers under the medical cannabis regime have already started to explore in anticipation of the recreational market. This will be an interesting facet to watch for when the Federal Government begins its Parliamentary debates on the proposed legislation, since in an open and free market, with a goal of increasing diversity of product (a recommendation in the Report) and quality of product, branding will be imperative to product differentiation and ownership of market share.
- Any product that is deemed to be “appealing to children,” is packaged to look like candy, is packaged in bright colours, with cartoon characters or other pictures or images that would appeal to children, should be prohibited. This is particularly the case in respect of so called ‘edible’ products that can often take the form of food items appealing to children (e.g., gummy bears).
- There should be variable tax rates or minimum prices linked to THC contents (i.e., higher taxes for cannabis with higher THC levels) in the same way that certain provinces discourage the use of higher content alcohol products by taxing them at a higher rate. We note that the Report did not recommend a differentiated tax regime for medical and recreational sales of cannabis, which has disappointed certain currently licensed producers of medical cannabis.
- A seed-to-sale tracking system is recommended to prevent diversion and assist product quality control.
- Mixed cannabis products should be prohibited (e.g., cannabis-infused alcoholic beverages or cannabis products with tobacco, nicotine or caffeine).
- The regulation of the distribution of cannabis and its derivative products should be shared between provinces and territories, and municipalities.
- Access via both retail distribution and mail-order system should be allowed.
- Where possible, no co-location of alcohol and cannabis should be permitted but when co-location cannot be avoided, appropriate safeguards must be put in place.
- Potential for pharmacy distribution, albeit, making such a change would also require regulatory changes at the provincial and territorial level, given the role that provincial and territorial regulatory and licensing authorities play in regulating the scope of practice of pharmacists.
- There ought to be limits on the density and location of storefronts, including an appropriate distance from schools, community centres and public parks.
- Maintain criminal offences for illicit production, trafficking, possession for the purposes of trafficking, possession for the purposes of export, and import/export, and trafficking to youth.
- Create administrative penalties (with flexibility to enforce more serious penalties) for contraventions of licensing rules on production, distribution and sale.
- A separate medical access framework for patients should be maintained and be re-evaluated in five years.