WINDSOR STAR: Canadian federal government announces new marijuana legislation

Windsor Star – Dalson Chen & Craig Pearson – April 14 2017

Smoking pot should soon be legal for adults in Canada, after the federal government announced a raft of much-anticipated marijuana legislation on Thursday.

Promising to “strictly regulate” the production, sale, distribution and possession of cannabis, the Liberals introduced a suite of bills in the House of Commons that will ultimately result in the legalization of recreational marijuana.

“This is a very important day,” said parliamentary secretary Bill Blair, who has been leading the federal government’s legalization plans.

“We know that criminal prohibition has failed to protect our kids and our communities. We need a new approach.”

Adults 18 and older will be allowed to possess up to 30 grams of dried cannabis in public, share up to 30 grams with other adults, and buy cannabis or cannabis oil from a provincially regulated retailer.

Selling cannabis to a minor will become a specific offence, for the first time in the history of the Criminal Code.

According to the Liberal government, there will be “severe penalties” for those who engage young people in cannabis-related offences, as well as a “zero-tolerance approach” to drug impaired

Blair said Canada needs to take the business of marijuana out of the hands of organized crime, and address the “very high rates” of use among young people.

Twenty-one per cent of youth and 30 per cent of young adults in Canada use cannabis, Blair said — some of the highest rates in the world.

“Our government is taking decisive action,” Blair said. “(This legislation) will make Canada safer.”

Adult home-growers will be allowed up to four plants per resident for personal use. Other cannabis-related products — such as pot-infused edibles — will be brought into the legalized sphere after rules for production and sale have been established.

The new legislation is already creating a buzz for Leamington-based marijuana grower Aphria, the second largest such company in Canada.

“It’s good news,” said Aphria CEO Vic Neufeld, whose company greenhouse operations will expand significantly as a result. “We’ve got the plans and dirt’s being moved as we speak.”

Neufeld said Aphria, which only received its licence to grow medical marijuana in November 2014, already employs about 120 people, and produces 2,600 kilograms of pot a year. An expansion is already underway, but when recreational use is allowed, he estimates Aphria will churn out 75,000 kilos a year with the help of as many as 400 workers — perhaps within a year and a half.

“The medical marijuana market in Canada right now is about $200 million a year,” Neufeld said. “It’s projected to grow up to $1.2 billion in four years. And by that time, the rec model is supposed to be $5 billion to $7 billion.”

Neufeld expects Aphria’s cannabis — which currently includes such products as Blue Dream, Alien Dawg and Grand Daddy Purps — to sell for retail at about $10 a gram. He says that amounts to about 1.5 joints, or “one big fatty.”

Neufeld also expects Aphria to explore other cannabis products, such as oils, lotions, chocolate bars, teas, and more — if allowed by law. But he said more clarification is needed, especially in terms of marketing and branding. Either way, he says Canada is now in the spotlight.

“I’m very much in favour of getting rid of the underground grower, which in turn gets rid of the middleman,” Neufeld said. “But socially, there’s still going to be a lot of stigma and pushback from a lot of Canadians come July 2018.”

“Society is growing up, it’s evolving. But at the same time, we should be cautious with this approach because the world is watching Canada. We’re on centre stage.”

The proposed Cannabis Act will continue to make illegal the import of cannabis and cannabis products. Export will require a valid permit, issued for limited medical, scientific, and industrial purposes.

Along with the legislation, the federal government will commit funds to licensing, inspection, and enforcement efforts related to the new laws. There will be restrictions on how cannabis can be advertised and promoted. There will be “robust” public awareness efforts, particularly regarding the dangers of driving while under
the influence.

Federal health minister Jane Philpott said $9.6 million will be spent on a five-year educational campaign on the risks of cannabis use, aimed at “youths, adults, and parents.”

“Youth are at the centre of the government’s actions to regulate and restrict access to cannabis,” Philpott said.

Months of scrutiny of the bills are expected as Ottawa, the provinces, and the territories go over the finer jurisdictional details of distribution and enforcement.

Yasir Naqvi, Ontario’s Attorney General, said provincial governments will need time to assess their responsibilities.

“This is quite a large undertaking,” Naqvi said. “I think the last time we legalized a product that was not legal was the end of Prohibition in the 1930s.”

The federal government hopes to have the new laws in place by July 2018. Once passed, the legislation introduced Thursday will make Canada the first G7 nation to legalize marijuana for recreational use, country-wide.

In Windsor, marijuana advocate Jon Liedtke, co-founder of downtown cannabis vapour lounge Higher Limits, said he feels the proposed legislation strikes a balance between the concerns of those in favour of legalization — and the concerns of those opposed.

“This is huge. This is the biggest announcement that’s been made to date in regards to legalizing cannabis,” Liedtke said. “Uruguay is the only other country to fully legalize.”

“The reason why this has taken so long … is because it’s not just the eyes of Canada on this. The eyes of the world are on Canada now, looking to see how this is being done. Other countries are going to look at this model to see if it works.”

Liedtke emphasized that this is only the beginning: He expects a tumultuous process over the next year, fraught with lobbyists and public pressures. “There’s still a fight to be had.”

— With files from the Canadian Press


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