Here’s what to look for in Canada’s pot legalization plan
The Canadian government is unveiling its plan to legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana today, and there’s still rampant speculation about what is — and isn’t — in the roadmap to legal pot.
Ever since Justin Trudeau first committed to dropping the criminal sanctions on the plant, long before he became prime minister, there has been endless debate about each facet of the plan.
Trudeau himself won’t be at the official unveiling at noon in Ottawa, which includes the ministers of justice, public safety, health, and national revenue.
Here’s what to look for.
A task force set up by the federal government — which is said to be informing much of their decision-making on the issue — recommended setting the national minimum age for marijuana at 18, and letting the provinces raise it to 19 if they so choose. “We know that age restrictions on their own will not dissuade youth use,” the report reads.
“18 is an age commonly identified as the minimum age for adulthood.”
Bill Blair, Toronto’s former police chief who now serves as a Member of Parliament and acts as Trudeau’s unofficial pot czar, was equivocal when he spoke to reporters in Ottawa last December.
“18 is an age commonly identified as the minimum age for adulthood. But these, again, are just recommendations, and the government will take them very carefully into consideration, as well as the advice of the medical community,” he said.
Either way, it’s unlikely that Ottawa will let any province set the legal age above 19, since that is considered the age of majority.
Lots of big pot companies are betting big on edibles and non-smokable marijuana as a way to reach out to a broader market, but they might be out of luck if Ottawa slaps tight regulations on how the pot brownies and THC-infused gummy bears are made and sold.
It specifically allowed for THC-infused oils, but said nothing about edibles or other derivatives.
The federal task force urged Ottawa to ban any product aimed at children “including products that resemble or mimic familiar food items,” including candy — so that’s probably a ‘no’ to gummy bears — and suggested that there be no mixing of marijuana with alcohol, tobacco, or caffeine.
Beyond that, the task force was generally supportive of approving edibles for sale, albeit with rules on how they can be marketed or sold.
Ottawa has been silent on the matter, however. When the Trudeau government re-wrote the medical marijuana rules last year, it specifically allowed for THC-infused oils, but said nothing about edibles or other derivatives.
When Trudeau’s government unveils the legalization bill later this afternoon, it is expected that the federal government will give broad discretion to the provinces to set up and manage the distribution and sale of marijuana as they see fit.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who is ideologically close to the prime minister, has suggested selling pot at the provincially controlled liquor stores, while Conservative Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has thrown up his hands and said legalization is moving too fast for his province.
But those fearing inconsistency should keep an eye out for what minimum requirements the Trudeau government sets out in its legislation. The task force report recommended that Ottawa prohibit selling marijuana where alcohol is also sold, and requiring that “dedicated storefronts” be a requirement — meaning that no province would be able to force customers to buy online-only.
One ambitious suggestion made by the task force is that Canadians should be able to grow four plants to themselves and keep up to 30 grams on their person.
The government has, thus far, been skittish on those numbers.
When asked about the four plant recommendation, Blair didn’t address it directly except to say that he’d be looking at “the implementation of other regulations and rules that local municipalities and provinces can put in place.”
“They should encourage personal production.”
“Police oppose home gardens, but they should encourage personal production if they want people to stop buying from the so-called ‘black market,'” Jodie Emery told VICE News. Emery is a marijuana activist who has been arrested several times in her attempts to enter both the gray and black markets.
She adds that the government should want home gardens. “If more people grow their own cannabis, the price of retail cannabis should drop because of the increase in supply,” she notes, which should push the black market out.
Blair’s answer suggests that Ottawa might be looking at zoning rules or regulatory — rather than criminal — ways of telling would-be amateur horticulturalists that they can’t raise the weed at home.
On the 30 gram possession limit, however, he seemed more supportive. “We looked at other jurisdictions that have also set, what I believe to be reasonable possession limits, all in and around that number,” he said this month.
While most of the criminal prohibitions will stop being enforced once marijuana is legalized, that doesn’t meant cops won’t stop prosecuting for black or gray market marketing or purchasing of pot — especially before legalization comes into force, in 2018.
Don’t expect any changes to law before full legalization happens.
While it’s not clear exactly what will trigger criminal prosecution (the task force recommended prohibiting reselling of marijuana, but make sure not to criminalize “some degree of sharing among friends and relatives”) the government has made it clear that they’re not looking to open up the wild west.
And don’t expect any changes to law before full legalization happens. Trudeau, despite mounting pressure, indicated that he wants local police to continue arresting and charging Canadians for cannabis offences.
In 2015, there was roughly 60,000 arrests for marijuana possession, distribution, trafficking, and cultivation.
Depending on how the federal government goes about it, legal pot will either be a windfall for Canada’s national ledger or will simply provide pocket change for the government to advertise about the dangers of marijuana to children.
The task force suggested tying the tax on the drug to the potency, or the THC content.
Currently, there is some academic debate about whether Ottawa should simply apply the federal/provincial sales tax (between 5 and 15 percent, depending on the province) or whether it should set up an excise tax, akin to what is applied to alcohol or tobacco — essentially a sin tax.
The task force suggested tying the tax on the drug to the potency, or the THC content. The trouble is, experts say, if you stack the price too high with taxes, the black or gray markets could continue to thrive by offering lower prices.
That issue could be averted by setting a price ceiling on the drug, an idea which would be sure to anger licensed producers.
Either way, the revenue could be anywhere from $600 million to $5 billion, depending.
Cover: Ben Ruby/Vice illustration