When the Liberals announced plans to legalize recreational cannabis in the fall of 2015, there was no framework for how the product would be regulated and distributed or who would be at the helm of the new industry estimated to be worth between $8 and $22 billion
Enter a host of politically-connected government insiders, former police chiefs, and lobbyists who angled to secure a slice of the pie for themselves and the upstart companies they represent.
“The system that has been created is so susceptible to lobbyists,” Ian Dawkins, President of the Cannabis Commerce Association of Canada, a Vancouver-based organization representing grey market marijuana producers told VICE News.
There is nothing illegal or unethical about former government officials joining the private sector; but some cannabis activists say politically-connected individuals are especially helpful for big weed companies as they push for government regulations that favour them at the expense of smaller players in the nascent industry.
These are some of the former regulators, bureaucrats, and lawmakers who’ve made the move from politics to pot.
Former government officials working for cannabis companies have been lobbying authorities to keep taxes on recreational weed low. Low tax rates are required to stifle the black market, but they also help the bottom lines of legal companies.
Jeff Ryan, a former policy advisor for the Finance Ministry, spearheaded the politicking on this front for Canopy Growth, Canada’s largest cannabis company, spending more than 20 percent of his professional time lobbying.
In August 2017, when the Liberal government was considering how cannabis would be taxed and regulated, Canopy Growth secured a meeting with the Chief of Staff at the Finance Ministry, Richard Maksymetz, according to lobbying records.
“We hope taxation won't be so high that it pushes the cost of a gram beyond what someone pays on the street,” Canopy Growth spokesman Jordan Sinclair told VICE News of the meeting. “Nothing is final yet but the proposed excise tax rate looks like it will allow us to compete on price,” he said. In other words, the firm believes the government will back its position on cannabis taxes.