The Canadian government has announced the launch of a review of the country’s cannabis legalization program, which it introduced in 2018. The review was initially scheduled for three years after legalization was introduced. However, it was delayed. A government representative has stated that they would rather have gotten the review right rather than rushing it through to meet a deadline.
On Thursday, the Canadian government launched a review of the country’s legalization program, which it introduced in October 2018. At a press briefing, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and Mental Health and Addictions Minister Carolyn Bennett discussed the next steps in the review, which coincides with the government’s release of a commitment document titled “Taking Stock of Progress: Legalization and Regulation of Cannabis in Canada.”
The review, scheduled to begin upon legalization, was to begin three years after legal sales began. However, it was delayed.
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Canadian Legislators Recognized Need for Ongoing Monitoring
“Canada is the first major industrialized country to provide legal and regulated access to cannabis for non-medical purposes, signaling a move away from the use of prohibitive measures to deter cannabis use, and toward an evidence-based approach to public health and public safety,” the document begins.
In drafting the Canadian cannabis law, legislators and policymakers recognized that for cannabis legalization to be successfully implemented, the framework “would require ongoing monitoring to assess early effects, as well as the flexibility to adapt and respond to emerging policy needs,” the paper says.
Growing Challenges of Canadian Cannabis Industry
The paper discusses the growing challenges of the Canadian cannabis industry.
“The cannabis market is in its infancy and is subject to ongoing market corrections. In response to downward pressure on wholesale prices, licensees are seeking new investors and restructuring to help them compete in an increasingly competitive market,” the paper notes. “Some licensees are exiting the industry entirely or reducing the number of sites they operate.”
The paper includes data related to some of the goals of the law, which include preventing youth use, eliminating the illegal market, and reducing cannabis-related arrests, for example.
It also poses discussion questions throughout the document, including, “What are your thoughts on the legislative and regulatory restrictions currently in place to protect public health?” and “What alternative measures, if any, might the government consider to better address the needs of racialized, underrepresented, or indigenous communities under the cannabis licensing program?”
How Does Legalization Affect Youth?
One of the focal points of the paper is how legalization affects youth use.
“Youth are at increased risk for cannabis-related harms, such as mental health problems, including addictive disorders related to anxiety and depression. Therefore, public education and outreach have been and continue to be critical to this effort to increase youth knowledge,” Bennett said Thursday.
“While much progress has been made in implementing Canada’s cannabis law and its dual goals of protecting public health and maintaining public safety, we need to evaluate the work done and learn how and where to adapt to meet those goals,” she added.
Curbing Illicit Cannabis Sales Still a Challenge for Canada
Regarding the illicit market, the paper notes that illegal cannabis sales are “a source of profit for many organized crime groups” and highlights the role of online sellers in complicating law enforcement efforts.
“Unlike the notable decline in unlicensed physical stores in Canada, disrupting illegal cannabis sales online is an ongoing challenge. Monitoring online activity is complicated – a website can be created in one country, hosted in another, on a domain name registered in yet a third, while selling a product in multiple jurisdictions,” the paper notes. “In addition, websites can be created easily and replace those seized or shut down by law enforcement.”
The paper notes that some local leaders and law enforcement officials have shared concerns about home growing for medical purposes, which allows the four-plant limit in the adult use program to be exceeded.
“Specifically, there is concern that some members of the medical access program may be using their license as a cover for production and detour of cannabis into the illegal market,” the document notes.
Government Expands Review’s Scope
The government expanded the review’s scope to include additional areas, including broader environmental and social impacts.
“Getting the scope of the review right was much more important than meeting the timeline. If we had followed the letter of the law – both in terms of the three-year timeframe and the considerations outlined in the law – we would have missed an important opportunity to get it right,” said MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, who is also co-chair of the Cannabis Caucus.
The government is also engaging with Canadians through an online questionnaire open until November 21.
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