Pot industry heavy hitters’ reaction on marijuana legalization a mixed bag

Licensed producers muse about opening their own storefront operations while tough new penalties on drug impaired driving raise legal questions for medpot patients

The marijuana dust has finally settled on the federal government’s plan to legalize marijuana after legislation was tabled last week. But reaction from the marijuana community has been mixture of praise and discord. 

For licensed medical marijuana producers (or LPs) legalization appears to be a positive, with power handed to the provinces by the feds to distribute marijuana opening the door to storefronts for Big Weed. Tough new laws on drug impaired driving and roadside random drug testing, meanwhile, raise constitutional questions for medpot patients currently licensed to smoke weed legally. And for craft cannabis and edibles producers – or more specifically, those among them currently considered illegal in the eyes of the feds – the future is uncertain.

“The market is going to get a lot bigger.”

The president of the largest licensed cannabis producer in the world, Mark Zekulin of Canopy Growth Corporation, says he’s happy that marijuana cultivation will continue to be regulated at the federal level.

“Not surprisingly, there’s a big focus on drug impaired driving and making sure that we have the right tools in place, that’s a very positive step.” 

There’s also good chance that licensed producers like Canopy will be facing more competition. Health Canada has decided to expedite the licensing process and allow smaller licensed producers. Health Canada currently lists 43 LPs in Canada.

“The market is going to get a lot bigger,” says Zekulin. “We welcome as many producers as makes sense in a controlled, regulated environment.”

It’s possible, he adds, that Canopy could have dedicated storefronts selling their products wherever the law allows, as provinces are given the power to sell pot in various ways.

“Some [provinces] may choose to run their own retail stores,” says Zekulin, “and some may allow for private distribution channels.” 

One the edibles front, the government has postponed regulations for the time being, but pushed forward a recommendation from the federal task force on plain packaging for such products, which LPs have lobbied against. “We will certainly continue to be involved in that conversation,” says Zekulin.

Marijuana edibles stay in the mix

Lisa Campbell, who runs the very popular and semi-underground craft cannabis Toronto Green Market, says “It’s exciting for Canadians to have legalization so close. But for the existing industry, it’s a little bit nerve-racking.” 

Campbell primarily operates her farmers market in Ontario, which has been one of the most contentious battlegrounds for dispensary legality in the country. Despite that fact, she still has hope that some sort of private retail will be allowed for cannabis sales as opposed to the unpopular suggestion of selling pot at government-controlled stores. 

“The potential that we have is for multi-channel retail which could include private stores, government stores, it could also include mail-order,” says Campbell, who stresses the need for  “mom and pop” style stores like the Emerys’ Canna bis Culture that have been targeted by authorities. “For businesses who basically built the foundation for legalization, you need to be able to include those or there will always be a black market.”

One of the aspects of the proposed legislation that Campbell is enthusiastic about is edibles, which will be part of the legal framework once regulations have been determined.

“We’re super excited about edibles being in the mix. Obviously, only licensed producers can produce those edibles, so for a lot of our craft cannabis brands, we’re going to be looking at transitioning into the new licensed producer system,” says Campbell.

Smells like prohibition 2.0

Speaking of the Emerys, who have been on a rollercoaster ride of late between their arrests and bail-ordered conditions forcing them to give up control of their chain of Cannabis Culture storefronts, to them the feds’ legalization plan smells like prohibition 2.0. 

“It doesn’t address the actual reasons why marijuana is supposed to be legalized,” says Jodie Emery. Instead, “It introduces a number of new, harsh penalties that will see an expansion of unjust arrests and criminalization of people for cannabis.”

That could include an 18-year-old sharing a joint, for example, with a 17-year-old sibling, under new provisions calling for a 14-year prison term for sharing marijuana with a minor. “All of the young adults who are aged 17 to 20, are already disproportionately targeted by law enforcement,” says Emery.

A second point of concern for Emery is the significantly stricter impaired driving rules, which broaden police authority to conduct random roadside drug tests.

“This is very scary because it means that every medical marijuana patient can lose their license, their car, and become a criminal,” if convicted of drugged driving. 

Legalization tug of war

Even though Jodie Emery is not satisfied with the legislation as proposed, she recognizes from more than a decade of fighting marijuana prohibition that it is a start.

“Incrementalism is the only way anything gets done,” she says, citing Washington State, “which started with [making marijuana enforcement] the lowest police priority, then medical marijuana, then decriminalization, and finally legalization. This is always a tug of war, back and forth.” 

Last week’s announcement is more than 90 years in the making pair that with an over-authoritative and violent history, fueled by misinformation about cannabis and its “harms” to society, and there is bound to be friction.

But that friction is driven by movement, and any movement on this long stagnant issue is a very good thing.

Jon Hiltz is Canadian-based correspondent for Marijuana.com. A slightly different version of this story appears at Marijuana.com.

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