Jeanette VanderMarel is co-founder and president of Good & Green, a late-stage applicant for a federal license, and co-founder of The Green Organic Dutchman.
In the 19th century it was gold rushes in British Columbia. In the 20th century it was the discovery of oil in Alberta. In the 21st century, it will be the growth of cannabis across Canada.
For good and bad, Canada has been shaped by a series of singular, transformational events. In each case, the economic boom and ensuing social impact has challenged Canadian society and tested the ability of governments and courts to recalibrate policies, laws and expectations.
Nowhere is this more apparent than with the pending legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada. Not surprisingly, there has been tremendous focus on the approval date for Bill C-45. But as that day approaches, it’s increasingly clear how much remains to be resolved – and the risk imposed by the complicated process that still lies ahead.
Currently, Canada has a unique opportunity to position itself – and federally licensed legal Canadian cannabis companies – as world leaders in a global sector that is forecast to be worth $60-billion a year by 2028. Just as we leveraged our early expertise and experience in mining and energy after the initial booms in those sectors, we can do the same with cannabis. If, that is, we get it right.
One of the primary challenges is the inevitable urge to appease all the different industry players’ interests in the initial sweep of legislation. If we want to assume that global leadership role, there is no room for continued grey areas in Canada’s cannabis sector.
Colorado provides a powerful example of what can go wrong when legalization is done too broadly and too quickly. Since cannabis was legalized there in 2014, the state has spent considerable time re-regulating and trying to claw back the initial scope of the law including changes to packaging, zoning, contaminant testing and staff training.
That may mean that Canada needs to move toward cannabis legislation with foresight in envisioning the future. Canadians need a controlled and regulated industry to ensure we keep cannabis out of the black market and away from children. To apply the long-time mantra of cannabis consumers: Start low and go slow.
It’s essential, for example, to be fully committed from the very outset to eliminate the booming illegal black market that neither adheres to federal government standards of quality and safety, nor monitors who has access to cannabis. Canada is creating a new industry with tax paying legal companies and taking employees out of the underground economy into real jobs.
One of the proposed changes in Bill C-45 is the right to grow four cannabis plants per residence. In the right horticultural hands, a cultivator claiming homegrown status along with the allowed limit of four plants, could produce up to thousands of dollars-worth of cannabis a year. This will likely find it’s way to the black market.
Then there is the issue of distribution. Yes, the provinces have shared their blueprints for retailing recreational cannabis. But what will happen to the large number of illegal dispensaries – and their black market online counterparts? Who will crack down on these operators and how consistently will the rules be enforced?
The issues also extend to where cannabis can be legally consumed. Given the growing trend of living in high-rise condominiums and apartments, how will the air be filtered to ensure that cannabis smoke doesn’t enter other households – especially those where there are children? Legalization may lie in federal hands, but many of the crucial decisions that affect the use of recreational cannabis fall under municipal and provincial jurisdiction. And as we already know from experience, that can lead to very uneven market management and enforcement.
To fully capitalize on Canada’s positive reputation and international “brand” these details need to be addressed – or at the very least considered. If we want to show the world how to do this right and assume a leadership role, it’s worth taking the time to ensure that as many loopholes as possible are anticipated and blocked. Canada can and should continue to be the role model to the world for a responsible cannabis industry.
If we allow the urge to be everything to all people all at once, pending legislation could cost us our potential domination of a lucrative international industry.
Given the gold-rush mentality pervading the cannabis sector right now – and this applies to individuals, companies and governments – there’s an overriding sense of urgency to move ahead with legalization. It is time to legalize recreational cannabis, but we have to get it right.