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Cannabis Legalization

The subject of public safety is complex and is at the forefront of cannabis legalization. There are many factors to consider including the safety of children and youth, safety on road and in the workplace. These aspects are important priorities of the Canadian government and regulators are working on finding appropriate solutions.

The first point of Alberta’s framework for legalization is to keep Cannabis out of the hands of children and youth.  This is being addressed with minimum age requirements for possession and by restricting access to dispensaries for those under age.  Advertising regulations also exist requiring child-proof, plain packaging to deter children and to limit access.

One risk which still needs to be addressed is that children are unintentionally ingesting cannabis-infused edibles as these products are often mistaken for candy and chocolate.  Colorado recently addressed this by introducing rules limiting the shapes of the products, adding a universal THC symbol to each 10-milligram standard serving and requiring clear potency levels to be displayed on the packaging.  Early adoption of edible regulations could prove beneficial for both the industry and for the public.

The second point of Alberta’s framework is to protect safety on roads, in workplaces and in public spaces.  The topic of road safety and workplace safety are controversial and are still being debated.  However, the concern about public safety is more straightforward.  Recreational consumption has been restricted in most public places, with some municipalities only allowing consumption in private residences.

Road safety is still being discussed with more legislation being proposed in Bill C-46 later this year.  Driving high is illegal and will remain so, as is the consumption of Cannabis in vehicles.  It is not recommended to drive within two hours of inhaling Cannabis and five hours after ingesting.  The Government of Canada states that driving under the influence of Cannabis can impair your judgement, can affect your ability to react and like alcohol, Cannabis could increase your chance of being in a crash.

The Canadian Drug Policy Coalition states that frequent Cannabis users are more inclined to drive after consumption.  The punishment for impaired driving with THC levels of 2 ng (nanograms) but less than 5 ng per ml (millilitre) of blood is a maximum fine of $1000.  With THC levels of 5 mg or more, it is a mandatory $1000 fine for the first offence, the second offence is a minimum of 30 days imprisonment and the third is a minimum of 120 days imprisonment.

Law enforcement personnel are trained to detect drug-impaired driving. However, the methods being used currently include the Standard Field Sobriety Testing (SFST), which is administered roadside.  The other method is the Drug Recognition Expert (DRE).  This test examines a suspect’s vital signs, eyes, balance and ability to concentrate.  The officer will render an opinion, based on these results, which often leads to false and inconsistent arrests.

The most reliable test, currently, for detecting THC levels is the saliva method.  However, this test only detects the presence of a drug and does not always relate directly to the impairment of an individual.  Determining an individual’s impairment is controversial and is an ongoing debate in the industry.

Workplace drug testing includes testing for the presence of Cannabis (cannabinoids), opioids, amphetamine or methamphetamine, cocaine and PCP.  Being high at the workplace could be treated similarly to alcohol, it is at each employer’s discretion to implement drug testing to address recreational use.

The standard urine test, depending on your usage, will detect the by-products of THC for up to 30 days or more making the results not relative to impairment.  This is because THC is fat-soluble and remains in the body’s fat for as long as possible.  Saliva tests detect drug use within 24 hours, making the results more accurate.  Currently, Cannabis is being tested at 50 ng per ml, compared to other drugs like PCP at 25 ng and cocaine at 150 ng.

There has been an ongoing discussion about the legitimacy of drug testing for Cannabis and this issue will require risk-mitigating and thoughtful legislation to set a reliable industry standard.

Packaging and Supply

A complex issue facing the legalization of Cannabis in Canada has to do with the packaging regulations, overall supply and pricing concerns.  These concerns affect both the medical and recreational Cannabis consumer directly.

The states in the US that have passed recreational Cannabis laws started by implementing medical Cannabis programs.  Once recreational Cannabis became available to adults in Colorado the medical program began to decline.  Medical Cannabis sales there were reported to be over $430 million in 2016 but decreased slightly to $420 million in 2017.

The overall decline of the medical program is a result of forgoing the hassle associated with obtaining a medical marijuana card.  Another reason is that the Licensed Producers focus more on the premium products which favour the recreational markets, giving patients fewer options and supplies.  In some ways, the Licensed Producers seem to have abandoned patients to favour the bottom line.

Another topic being discussed in the community is the possible temporary product shortage.  For those in the medical program, it is common knowledge that the current Licensed Producers sell out of product regularly.  It is also common knowledge that Health Canada is slow to approve Licensed Producers.  It is projected the market will require as many as 200 Licensed Producers once legalization occurs, currently, there is just over 100.

Miles Light, co-founder of the Denver-based Marijuana Policy Group (MPG) feels a shortage is unlikely and estimates there will be 500,000 kilograms of “flower-equivalent” available upon legalization in Canada.  However, Mackie Research Capital forecasts licensed Producers will end the year with a production capacity of just over 100,000 kilograms.  Leaving a questionable gap in supply.

Providing consistent, high-quality products over the long term is something consumers will demand and will require some advanced technologies to achieve.  The licensed Producers who can accomplish this will have a competitive advantage in the marketplace and will also help to legitimize Cannabis use overall.

Health Canada regulations state Cannabis is to be sold in plain packaging with strict branding and advertising limits to deter children from consuming Cannabis.  However, retailers and Licensed Producers say branding is necessary to convince consumers to switch to the legal market and to differentiate each product and brand.  Advocates say these regulations are a disservice to consumers and will make it harder for individuals to understand the products being purchased.

One intention of legalization is to eliminate or decrease the illegal market.  However, the black market will continue as it has if there is a product shortage, as some people expect. The same will be true if the packaging remains ambiguous, as the illegal market has appealing branding which is clearly recognizable.  Illegal Cannabis typically costs less than the legal product, which is another reason some individuals may not change their purchasing habits.  Time will tell.

Legal Aspects

In Canada, the use of Cannabis for recreational purposes will be legal for adults later this fall.  There are many legal aspects facing local communities affecting the success of this social change.  Questions about possible pardons for past Cannabis offences and even examples of unintentional consequences are arising from the Canada legalization timeline upcoming in Canada.

Here in Calgary, the past attitude of the local authorities was somewhat relaxed when it came to Cannabis offences compared to other conservative communities.  Officers admit they have been working under an unofficial decriminalization capacity for many years and in most cases, only laying drug charges when necessary and were rarely stand-alone charges.  The impression is that Cannabis offences were a low priority previously.

Despite local authorities’ approach, arrests for Cannabis have occurred.  There are many Canadians who now have a criminal record and are serving time.  Once legalization occurs later this year there potentially may be reclassifications or pardons for previous Cannabis offences.  This will lessen the burden on the court system and will allow those individuals to then participate in the industry.

California’s new legislation included both reclassified or expunged for those with Cannabis offences.  It also allows those currently serving sentences the opportunity for re-sentencing.  Oregon also passed a resolution in 2015 allowing Cannabis offences to be expunged. The opposite is true for those in Washington and Colorado, where the legalization has become more severe in some cases.

The Stanford Open Policing Project 2018 reports that after Cannabis consumption was legalized, Colorado and Washington did see a dramatic drop in overall ‘search’ rates.  It is time for Canada to adopt an atmosphere of non-criminality, to stop arrests and expunge existing criminal records for Cannabis possession.  It is important the laws reflect the values of its citizens.

One intention of legalization is to displace the black market with a regulated, legal market.  However, authorities in Calgary admit there have already been representatives of ‘the cartel’ coming to Canada to infiltrate the legitimate market, ahead of legalization.  This is an unavoidable consequence which is offset by a possible reduction in the low-level street dealers.  It will be up to the municipalities to screen these individuals as much as possible to avoid too much saturation.

It will be every individual’s responsibility to be aware of local and federal laws surrounding the use of recreational Cannabis.  The minimum age for consumption, where to find legal sources, where you can consume it, how much product you can possess at one time and intoxication limits for driving are some things to consider.  Legalization will have many advantages and disadvantages.  The process will take time before the long-term legislation is more realistic.

Infrastructure

The subject of legalization and what demands it will put on infrastructure is a topic that has been largely ignored.  There are many different sectors that will be affected by legalization, from the additional demands on the postal service to the possible strain on health care.  Most of these issues can have both advantages and disadvantages.

For over a decade medical Cannabis has been delivered to patients’ homes through Canada Post or other courier services.  The recreational market will also utilize home delivery, putting an increased demand on these services.  It will require additional staff and vehicles, which will create more emissions and so on.  This is potentially good for the economy with some unintentional environmental consequences.

Energy and water consumption is another consideration affecting Cannabis producers and is one of the highest expenditures in a cultivation operation.  Some of these facilities are very large and the demand is equally so.  It might be a requirement for the provincial governments to expand their energy and water facilities to accommodate the industry.  Again, this will be great for job creation but will use a lot of agriculture space and utilities.

Being able to quantify the economic and environmental impacts will be critical to evolving the industry and separating the strong competitors from the rest.  Using baseline data to establish average energy costs per square foot, per gram of product and determining a facilities carbon footprint will be required to identify areas of improvement.  This will help to create best practices within the industry.

Another less obvious sector that will be affected by legalization is the real-estate market.  On one hand, it will create a demand of otherwise idle commercial properties for production purposes, reinvigorating local communities in some cases.  On the other hand, there will be some residential properties that might become undesirable to the average market.  This is because some municipalities will allow personal grow operations, most are safe but some could potentially cause damage to the property.

Some advocates in the Cannabis community say the strain on the health care system will decrease as the general public begins to use Cannabis as an alternative.  This remains to be seen.  However, the National Center for Biotechnology Information shared that the increase in availability led to an increase in health care utilization related to Cannabis exposure.  An increase of incidences of evolving burns, cyclic vomiting syndrome and health care visits due to ingestion of edible products were reported.

With legalization happening late this year in Canada, it will be interesting to see how these infrastructure concerns are addressed over the next decade.  No matter what, all solutions will be in reaction to this new legislation.

The Future

After almost one hundred years of cannabis prohibition, Canada is now entering a regulated and legal market. In Canada after legalization, we became the first G7 county to legalize cannabis, Canada is paving the way for global change.  It shows the government of Canada believes adults are mature enough and have the right to make their own choices.

Legalization will bring some expected challenges but also some deserved benefits.  The most obvious benefit is that Canadian citizens will have reasonable access to legal, regulated Cannabis products.  In some municipalities, individuals will be able to publicly consume Cannabis in designated areas and some will also be allowed to grow a maximum of four plants per household.

Until recently ‘drug paraphernalia’ was illegal to import, export, manufacture, promote, or to sell.  Bill C-45 addressed this issue by re-defining a ‘Cannabis accessory’ as ‘rolling papers or wraps, holders, pipes, water pipes, bongs and vaporizers.  This law makes paraphernalia legal in Canada but still restricted, this is a minor change to legislation with potentially big impacts.

Legalization will also make it possible for scientific research in Canada, which will help legitimize the use of Cannabis as a treatment for any medical condition.  Canada has a unique opportunity to investigate the potential therapeutic benefits of medical Cannabis, potentially setting global precedence.  The research will help increase popular support of Cannabis use for both medical and recreational users.  It is also the key to mitigating negative stereotypes and eliminating the stigma associated with consumption.

Another obvious benefit of legalization is job creation, in many sectors of industry.  The U.S. Cannabis industry is now reported to be employing an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 workers as of 2016.  Sectors include retailers, wholesale grows, infused products and concentrates companies, testing labs and so on.  The emerging industry will also include everything from security and insurance, to compliance, there are also endless possibilities for consulting.  It will be really exciting to see what new sectors evolve after legalization!

Advertising regulations in Canada are strict but promoting content on social media is even more difficult.  Most social platforms are US-based and Cannabis is still illegal there, federally speaking.  These platforms do not allow this ‘type’ of content and even ban some related hashtags.  Earlier this year, YouTube deleted several well-established Cannabis channels due to the violations of their ‘community guidelines.  In the past, Google Maps has declined to add dispensaries, even though some states in the US have legalized Cannabis.  This is slowly beginning to change, as Cannabis becomes more normalized.

Some hard-core advocates in the community say the Cannabis Act isn’t legalization, because of the current advertising restrictions and lack of regulations for topicals, edibles and concentrates.  Some other reasons include the lack of consumption lounges and the restriction on public consumption in some municipalities.  The biggest concern for experienced users is the new drugged-driving laws, which are unreasonably strict and have serious consequences.

Some of these advocates also feel no one should be allowed to profit from this emerging industry, but how else will Cannabis become legitimate if there is no regulated market?  There are some individuals in the community who choose to remain optimistic about the progress, which should not be mistaken for ignorance.  Nothing good happens overnight, particularly when the government is involved.  In time, Colorado resolved many of these same issues, recently implementing their first Cannabis lounge earlier this last year.  The Cannabis Act is technically legalization and while it may not be perfect it is the framework of our future industry.  Regardless, the future looks green for those in the Cannabis community and industry here in Canada.

This social change is a direct result of many advocates and medical patients who paved the way over many decades, we thank you!

Cannabis Legalization Summary

After almost one hundred years of cannabis prohibition, Canada is now entering a regulated and legal market.  As the first G7 county to legalize Cannabis, Canada is paving the way for global change.  It shows the government of Canada believes adults are mature enough and have the right to make their own choices.

The first point of Alberta’s framework for legalization is to keep Cannabis out of the hands of children and youth. This is being addressed with restrictions on:

  • Minimum age requirements
  • Advertising regulations
  • Child-proof, plain packaging

However, there are still safety concerns to consider.  Children can unintentionally ingest Cannabis infused edibles, as these products are often mistaken for candy and chocolate.  Some of the new proposed regulations for edibles could reduce this risk for families.  These include:

  • THC limits: 10mg per serving
  • Child-proof, plain packaging
  • Possible restrictions on both colours and shapes.

The second point of Alberta’s framework is to protect safety on roads, in workplaces and in public spaces.  Some ways this is being addressed:

  • Consumption has been restricted in most public places
  • Punishments for drug-driving and for the consumption of cannabis in vehicles
  • Allowing employers to implement independent drug testing to address recreational use

There is still ongoing discussion about the legitimacy of drug testing for Cannabis and if it is even possible to measure intoxication.  Some of the testing being used currently include:

  • Standard Field Sobriety Testing (SFST)
  • Drug Recognition Expert (DRE)
  • Blood test
  • Urine test
  • Saliva method

This issue will require risk-mitigating and thoughtful legislation to set a reliable standard.

Another complex set of issues facing the legalization of Cannabis in Canada has to do with the packaging regulations, overall supply and pricing concerns.

Health Canada regulations state Cannabis is to be sold in plain packaging with strict branding and advertising limits to deter children from consuming Cannabis.  However, retailers and Licensed Producers say branding is necessary to convince consumers to switch to the legal market and to differentiate each product and brand.  Advocates say these regulations are a disservice to consumers and will make it harder for individuals to understand the products being purchased.

The hottest topic right now is the supply shortage, which is affecting most of the country and particularly retailers here in Alberta.  For those in the medical program, it is common knowledge that the current Licensed Producers sell out of product regularly.  It is also common knowledge that Health Canada is slow to approve Licensed Producers.  It is projected the market would require as many as 200 Licensed Producers at the time legalization occurs and currently, there are just over 150 even now.

One intention of legalization is to eliminate or decrease the illegal market.  However, the black market will continue due to these factors:

  • Supply shortages
  • The current restrictions on packaging
  • Illegal products typically cost less than the legal product

In Calgary, the past attitude of the local authorities was somewhat relaxed when it came to Cannabis offences compared to other conservative communities.  Officers admit they have been working under an unofficial decriminalization capacity for many years and in most cases, only laying drug charges when necessary and are rarely stand-alone charges.

However, many Canadians currently have a criminal record and are serving time for past Cannabis related offences.  Questions about possible pardons and even examples of unintentional consequences are arising from the current legalization in Canada.

The most relevant consequence of legalization is that individuals from organized crime have begun to infiltrate the legitimate market.  This is an unavoidable consequence which is offset by a possible reduction in the low-level street dealers.  It will be up to the municipalities to screen these individuals as much as possible to avoid too much saturation.

It will be every individual’s responsibility to be aware of local and federal laws surrounding the use of recreational cannabis. These rules include:

  • Minimum age for consumption
  • Where to find legal sources
  • Where you can consume it
  • How much product you can possess at one time
  • Intoxication limits for driving

The subject of legalization and what demands it will put on infrastructure is a topic that has been largely ignored.  Some of the sectors being affected include:

  • Package delivery services, Canada Post and UPS etc
  • Utility services: energy and water
  • Real-estate market: commercial and residential
  • Healthcare services: increased emergency incidence such as burns and overdoses etc.
  • Waste and recycling services.

These new demands on infrastructure are beneficial for job creation but raise questions about the unintentional consequences. These are:

  • Increased emissions, environmental impacts
  • Demand on agriculture space and utility services
  • Decreased property values due to potential grow operations
  • Increased waste and recycling demands from left-over packaging

Being able to quantify the economic and environmental impacts will be critical to evolving the industry and separating the strong competitors from the rest.

The most obvious benefit of legalization is that Canadian citizens will have reasonable access to legal, regulated Cannabis products.  Legalization will also make it possible for scientific research in Canada, which will help legitimize the use of Cannabis as a treatment for any medical condition.  It is also the key to lessening negative stereotypes and eliminating the stigma associated with consumption.

Another obvious benefit of legalization is (or was) job creation, in many sectors of industry.  However, many Cannabis companies have their hiring programs on hold currently because of the issues caused by the supply shortage, which is causing delaying opening storefronts and other sectors of business.

Advertising regulations in Canada are strict but promoting content on social media is even more difficult.  Currently, most social platforms are US-based and Cannabis is still illegal there, federally speaking.  This is slowly beginning to change, as Cannabis becomes more normalized.

Despite all the debate The Cannabis Act is technically legalization and while it may not be perfect it is the framework of our future industry.  Regardless, the future looks green for those in the Cannabis community and industry here in Canada.

References:  Lift News, Openparliament.ca, Driving.caCanadian Drug Policy CoalitionAlberta.ca, Albert Health Services, Government of Canada, Department of JusticeThe Cannabist, Huffington Post, Parliament of Canada, Openparliament.ca, Ottawa SunVancouver Sun, CBC, CanniMed, RCMPThe Globe and Mail Inc, Global News, High Times, Sure Hire, CBC TV, Marijuanabreak.com, Fool.comState of Colorado, CBC, CBC, VICE News, Financial Post, Global News, CBC, Lift NEWS, VICE News, The Stanford Open Policing Project, MNP CanadaGlobeNewswire, National Center for Biotechnology Information,

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