Hill+Knowlton hosted stakeholders with interest in discussing the politics of marijuana legalization. Our panel of experts included:

  • Ivan Ross Vrana, Senior Associate and long-time medical marijuana consultant;
  • Sarah Bain, Vice-President and political pundit; and,
  • Elliott Gauthier, Vice-President and National Director of Research and Analytics.

The event was an opportunity for stakeholders who are actively engaged in the marijuana industry to hear from the H+K team of experts regarding the current policy and political environment. The group was privy to fresh survey results from the H+K Perspectives Panel, which examined the relevance of this issue for Canadian’s, as well as their views on producing and selling marijuana for medical and recreational purposes. The group heard about the issues and concerns that will affect the future of the Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) and gained insight into possible government actions over the next year.
General overview
While speaking to a special session of the UN General Assembly on April 20, 2016, Minister of Health Jane Philpott announced that the government will introduce legislation on recreational marijuana in spring 2017. The brief timeline leaves the federal government with an extensive task list which includes developing a pan-Canadian framework and working with provincial governments to identify roles with respect to: marijuana production, distribution and safety, alongside setting tax rates, legalizing edible products, and setting penalties for the purchase and sale of marijuana to minors, among other aspects.
Allard vs. Canada ruling
In March, Minister Philpott announced that the federal government would not appeal the Federal Court’s decision in the matter of Allard vs. Canada which sets the timeline for government to complete the amendment of the marijuana for medical purposes regulations. The deadline is August 24, 2016. The Court gave the government six months to amend the regulations; if the government cannot meet this deadline, the government will have to go back to the Court and request an extension. Minister Philpott stated the amendments will only address what was raised by the Court, primarily in respect to affordable and accessible medical marijuana.
With a tight Court deadline and Treasury Board approval timeframe, time is of the essence. The Minister’s confirmation that the government will not seek an appeal seems to indicate that the government will likely introduce amended regulations ahead of the deadline. A great deal of work lies ahead with a very lengthy departmental process to run through.
Regulation + policy
Health Canada will want and is required to ensure anything produced using marijuana is done in accordance with the Foods and Drugs Act. This means that any product whether used for medicinal or recreational purposes must be safe to consume. This will also include marijuana that is grown in the home and for personal use. Minister Philpott has stated several times that the regulations are going to be strict and that quality production, record keeping and security standards will be part of the regime. The federal government will look to control marijuana use and will carefully vet the stakeholders that will produce the product in order to guarantee safety and quality.
Consultations with federal and provincial government and taskforce creation
The government taskforce on marijuana is likely to be announced in the spring of 2016. The government has stated that Parliamentary Secretary to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, Mr. Bill Blair, will lead the taskforce to review distribution, labelling and public safety issues. The taskforce will be made up of experts who will provide their insight to Blair. His experience and background as former police chief will be an asset.
In all likelihood, the government will invite witnesses as well as stakeholders to provide written submissions for consideration by the taskforce. When providing submissions, stakeholders will need to consider demonstrating the work and discussions that they have had not only at the federal level, but also provincially, as they will be tasked with enforcing policing and public safety laws.  Strong consideration should also be given to what community consultations may be helpful or required to help to create the necessary social licence for appropriate distribution.
When meeting with government, businesses need to showcase what they have done in terms of community outreach. The government wants to know that stakeholders have consulted with communities, have engaged with the general public, and have made an effort to build relationships. Community engagement is important to this government and the ability to demonstrate work in this area will be key.
Three departments have been tasked with developing the regulations and legislation on marijuana: Health Canada, Justice and Attorney General of Canada, and Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. Stakeholders should consider meeting with political staff, parliamentary secretaries and bureaucrats who work in these departments.
National survey on the production and selling of marijuana
Using the H+K Perspectives Panel, H+K surveyed 973 Canadians across the country. The survey asked Canadians their priorities for marijuana regulation and distribution; perceived effectiveness of potential retailers (i.e., with respect to collecting taxes, guarding against organized crime, protecting minors and providing convenience). The survey also explored public preferences with respect to where marijuana should be sold, as well as personal interest in consuming various forms of the drug (e.g., edible, vapourizing, smoking, tincture).
Below, are a few key findings:

  • Who should be allowed to sell marijuana:
    • 82% pharmacies
    • 72% dedicated marijuana dispensaries
    • 59% liquor stores
  • When it comes to regulating the distribution and sale of marijuana, 76% of Canadians felt that the priority for government should be to keep marijuana out of the hands of minors and avoid public safety risks. 75% felt that making the sale of marijuana less profitable and attractive to organized crime should be the priority.
  • 72% of Canadians felt that provincial liquor stores would the most effective in collecting tax revenue.
  • About half of those surveyed prefer a mixed system where licensed producers grow for the retail market, while adults can grow limited amounts for personal use.

It is still unclear what the system will look like and a long road lies ahead before anything concrete is implemented or enforced, which speaks to huge opportunity for marijuana related industries and services.  By all accounts the industry seems to be respected by the federal government, therefore it appears that a role for these stakeholders will not only be included by the government, but valued. The industry should take this opportunity to get in front of the government, take a proactive stance, act as partners and share their knowledge and while acting as advocates for the industry at large.