Feds’ marijuana task force rules out storefront weed

High hopes among cannabis activists for an interim measure to decriminalize pot also goes up in smoke before serious work on legalization has begun

With the feds scheduling a pot announcement on the day before the Canada Day long weekend, there were high hopes among cannabis activists. Last time the government made a major announcement on marijuana, it chose 420 as the date.

So when the feds sent out a tersely-worded media advisory June 29 about “an announcement regarding marijuana,” it looked like the Trudeau government had finally listened to the advice of legal experts, and was set to decriminalize marijuana as an interim measure while it figures out what legalization looks like. The Criminal Lawyers’ Association, among others, has been calling on the government to stay all marijuana-related charges now before the courts. Pressure has been building on the government to act.

Alas, the announcement was a re-announcement of sorts – the official launch of the nine-member federal task force headed by former Chretien-era justice minister Anne McLellan set up to hear public input on federal plans to legalize weed. 

McLellan quickly put the decriminalization question to rest, making it clear in a media conference at that National Press Theatre in Ottawa that the government’s goal is to “legalize, restrict and regulate access to marijuana.” Protecting kids was a recurring theme at the conference attended by representatives for the ministers of health, public safety and justice. Quality, purity and potency will be a big focus of regulation, McLellan said.

The task force includes former members of the RCMP, academics and addiction experts, as well as Mark Ware, a respected pain researcher at McGill University Health Centre and executive director of the Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids, a federally incorporated non-profit. Ware, who also acts as an advisor to licensed medical marijuana producers, will sit as vice-chair of the committee.

While the task force will take into account lessons learned from other jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana, including Colorado, on the point of medical access, the announcement also seemed designed to emphasize the government’s view that storefront dispensaries won’t be a part of Canada’s lucrative legal weed system, which is expected to generate revenues of some $2.5 billion a year.

Michel Picard, parliamentary secretary to Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale, went as far as to state that “These storefronts sell untested products that may be unsafe and of particular risk to kids and they are supplied by illegal growers.” There’s much debate over that assertion, including from legal medpot users who prefer product from storefront operations to that of licensed producers.

On that point, the Toronto Dispensaries Coalition (TDC), “the voice to medical cannabis patients and dispensaries that serve them across the Greater Toronto Area,” issued a statement of its own to “clear up facts on dispensaries.”

The statement quoting coalition volunteer Michael McLellan reminded the task force that “cannabis sold at medical dispensaries is tested for potency of active ingredients, as well as possible contaminants.” Health concerns over the contents in marijuana edibles were the pretext for Toronto police raids on storefront dispensaries in May, which took place as the city was working on bylaws to regulate the operations.

TDC’s statement goes on to say that dispensaries “welcome standardized rules governing testing requirements and labelling, which would ensure consistency across the industry.”

But it seems unlikely Canada’s legalization model will follow the lead of U.S. jurisdictions, the majority of which include storefront dispensaries. 

Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould issued a firm reminder at last week’s announcement that current marijuana laws will continue to be enforced.

“Production and possession of marijuana are illegal unless it has been authorized for medical purposes,” said Wilson-Raybould.

The task force has set-up an online consultation until August 29. Its final report is expected in November. 

news@nowtoronto.com | @nowtoronto

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