I’ve written a book about how to “Start and Run A Marijuana Dispensary or Pot Shop”. You can buy it at Amazon at this link. When you write a book about a subject which is in the news you get to do a fair bit of media. The Canadian Marijuana Task Force Report is being delivered to Cabinet tomorrow and will be released to the public “in due course”. Preparatory to that release I made a few notes for my publicist which I thought might be of interest to my readers. Here they are with a few comments below.
The McLellan Task Force Report on Marijuana Legalization Report is supposed to be released in the next few days. The Task Force was charged with working out how best to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Canada. Its findings are likely to determine how the Liberal government implements its campaign promise to legalize marijuana.
There are a number of questions which the Report may address:
- Regulatory regime: will the Task Force opt for a Colorado style “seed to sale” regulatory regime where every step of production and sale is tightly controlled and subject to video surveillance, inspection and high security or will the Task Force adopt a less intrusive regime closer to the regulations governing liquor or tobacco?
- Regularization of the “Grey Market”: Will the Task Force give grey market dispensaries and pot shops a route to above ground operations or will the Task Force take the position that the grey market must be eradicated for legalization to be effective.
- Growers: Will the Task Force take the position that the only growers who should be allowed to operate are those already licenced by Health Canada or will it provide a pathway for non-licenced growers to participate in the recreational marijuana market.
- Age limit: The Canadian Medical Association has suggested to the Task Force that the minimum age for recreational marijuana consumption be set at 25. Will the Task Force accept that recommendation or will it set 18 or 19 as the minimum age.
- Federal/Provincial issues: This being Canada there are a number of issues surrounding legalized marijuana which engage the Constitution. Will the Task Force recommend that marijuana continue to fall under the Federal Criminal Code and Narcotics Control act with legalization consisting of forbearance where licencing and regulations are in place? Or will the Task Force recommend leaving the regulatory details to the provinces?
The marijuana legalization debate in Canada comes down to a question of top down, centralized regulation versus bottom up, decentralized regulation.
The experience in Vancouver and Victoria suggests that a decentralized, bottom up, lightly regulated model is viable and can meet the needs of marijuana users with minimal disruption. It offers entrepreneurial opportunities and, properly taxed, could prove to be a significant, low cost, source of revenue to government.
However, against the Vancouver model, there is a significant strand of prohibitionary thought. If the McClellan Task Force takes a prohbitionary line it will treat marijuana as a “dangerous” substance which needs maximal, top down, regulation. This line will emphasize “protecting the children” and keeping “organized crime” out of the marijuana business as goals more important than entrepreneurial opportunity, competitive pricing or easy access.
If I was to bet I would think the Task Force is going to go for a restrictive, possibly very restrictive, set of regulations regarding recreational pot.
While there are a lot of people who would like to see full decriminalization and a general bottom-up approach, there are lots more who come at marijuana from a prohibitionist perspective. Given McClellan’s background as an anti-drug health minister and a long time advisor to a law firm representing several of Health Canada’s licenced medical marijuana grow shows, the Task Force is unlikely to adopt a laissez-faire approach.
The only question is how restrictive and comprehensive the Task Force reccomendations will be. Or, put another way, will there be room for the bottom up, Vancouver, style approach within a national framework?
A creative Task Force could craft a regulatory regime which allowed the grey market to be regularized by requiring dispensaries and pot shops to obtain their supplies from licenced growers. (And which eased the current absurd backlog of applications at Health Canada: over 1400 applications, 40 licences granted.) The retailers could be licenced at a local or provincial level – rather like private wine stores – and would have to conform to local zoning and other by-laws.
The licenced growers under such a scheme would, in effect, become the pot equivalent of wineries which are only allowed to sell to licencees. Thus, whatever quality concerns arise could be addressed at the grower level. The number, location and size of pot shops would be a purely local matter. (And, if I were designing the regs I would drop the increasingly implausible “medical marijuana/recreational marijuana distinction”.) If we insist upon preserving the medical marijuana category as a somehow constitutionally guaranteed Canadian right, then licencee growers could continue to sell to mail order customers and individuals would be allowed to grow their own or designate a grower.
You could set a federal minimum age for pot purchase but, despite there being medical evidence that long term heavy usage is not good for the young brain, it would be unwise to set it much above 19 as that would simply create black market opportunity.
This regulatory outline would allow the cannabis culture driven grey market to be regularlized while ensuring that the Health Canada “Big Pot” industrial grow shows stayed in business and allowing new entrants at the grow level. It would be relatively easy to administer and would allow different communities to craft by-laws to reflect their individual community values.
I am not holding my breath.