Marijuana dispensaries, lounges, and recreational smokers all have reasons to be optimistic following the release of a government report on how legalization in Canada should be shaped.
The Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation made 80 recommendations to the government Tuesday. They include allowing for pot to be sold in retail spaces (a.k.a. dispensaries) and to be smoked at indoor marijuana lounges and tasting rooms.
The task force also said the legal age to purchase and consume cannabis should be 18, and that Canadians smoking recreationally should be allowed to possess a maximum of 30 grams of weed.
As for criminalization, the task force called for illegal production, trafficking, and selling to minors to remain criminal offenses, but for lesser offenses to move towards a fining system.
We reached out to several stakeholders in the marijuana industry to get their reactions to the news.
Jodie Emery, owner, Cannabis Culture dispensaries
Emery owns a string of fully recreational dispensaries that are currently operating illegally in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal.
While she said it's "encouraging" that the task force has given dispensaries a greenlight, she mentioned the fact that growers operating outside of the legal system will be "hunted down" by police is a new form of prohibition.
"LPs [licensed producers] on the stock market are no doubt seeing share values go up. Smaller growers will have to continue to hide from law enforcement, because they cannot get past the expensive and exclusionary requirements to become an LP."
Abi Roach, owner, Roach-O-Rama and Hot Box Cafe
Roach, who has been battling the Smoke-Free Ontario Amendment Act, which would effectively make vape lounges illegal, said she was "extremely happy" about the report.
"I'm just crying reading it," she said. "I think this will clear that little hurdle that we're facing."
Roach also said she's pleased that the recommendations allow for small businesses and craft growers to partake in the new regime.
"I was a little concerned and feeling downtrodden that it was all for the fat cats."
But she said the government needs to come up with a plan on how to deal with those currently operating in a gray market prior to legalization actually being implemented.
"The raids need to stop," she said. "If they're going to give licenses out to small business, why not start now… and let the city start getting ready."
Sarah Gillies, co-founder, Green Market Toronto edibles pop-up
Gillies co-founded the Green Market in May, just before Toronto's Project Claudia dispensary raids, which saw hundreds of kilograms of edibles seized.
She said the task force's report—which said edibles should be legal as long as they are not appealing to children—was surprising in a good way.
"I think we're all used to expecting the worst, especially with craft cannabis and edibles. We often got put on the back burner," she said. "It was really nice to see that they touched on it."
The task force also recommended edibles be contained in opaque, childproof packaging and be labeled to include THC and CBD levels.
"I think making things not look like candy is a little difficult, so I'm not sure how they want us to make the edibles look," said Gilles, who makes lollipops, gummies, brownies, and cookies under her label, the Bakers Shop. "It will force people to construct a whole new business model."
In light of Project Claudia, many dispensaries removed edibles from their shelves. The Green Market has attempted to fill that gap; its 20 to 25 businesses gather regularly to sell a variety of edibles.
"You're creating jobs, you're creating small businesses… you're giving patients access," said Gilles.
Justin Loizos, patient
Loizos, who uses cannabis to treat his multiple sclerosis, also said he's pleasantly surprised by the report.
"It shows that they did actually listen to the impact statements that were submitted by various people and especially our community, the medical community." In particular, he said he's relieved that storefronts are being recognized as a necessary option as opposed to just mail-order cannabis.
However, he said he's been frustrated at the number of dispensaries that have been claiming to sell to patients when they really just want to sell recreational weed. He's concerned that that will slow down the implementation of legalization.
"The faster we get into legalization, the sooner sick patients will be left alone and allowed to heal."
Jordan Sinclair, spokesperson, Tweed (licensed producer)
Sinclair said the recommendations are a promising start to the conversation on legalization, with a focus on public health and safety.
However, he raised concerns about the points on packaging and promotion (the report calls for "comprehensive restrictions" on the advertising and promotion of cannabis, similar to rules around cigarettes).
"While we agree that promotion, especially to youth, is a serious topic, it's important to recognize that packaging and advertising restrictions are driven by public health concerns," Sinclair said. "With that in mind, packaging and promotion rules should reflect the relative public health risk posed by cannabis."
Paul Lewin, lawyer and regional director, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)
Lewin said he doesn't believe that anyone should be receiving criminal records for cannabis-related offenses anymore.
"It should be treated administratively," he said. "Like if your signal light is not working you get a ticket for it… You're not going to get a criminal record for having a signal light not working."
He also pointed out the recommendations, which say that trafficking, possession for the purpose of trafficking, exporting, and illicit production should remain criminal and leave room for interpretation by local governments and law enforcement.
"There will be the discretion to proceed as a straight criminal matter at all times and discretion is always bad."
Lewin said he would like the government to acknowledge the harm that prohibition has done to Canadians with criminal records. He believes they should consider pardons for those who have only been convicted of nonviolent cannabis crimes.
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