The scheduled three-year legislative review of the Federal Cannabis Act in October 2021 will be another exciting milestone on Canada’s adult-use cannabis journey. It is an essential opportunity to reflect on the fundamental goals established for the cannabis industry in the first place, to review what has been learned during the roll-out of legalization, and to offer solutions to ensure the application of these laws continues to be relevant and consistent.
Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, and the regulatory frameworks created in 2018 were not perfect, but they were the first step that gave the Canadian cannabis sector a considerable advantage. It permitted the sale of cannabis within a legal regulatory system and clearly delineated the roles and responsibilities that each level of government would hold regarding cannabis retail sales and production. It allowed us to build from the ground up and to access a significant amount of capital investment. Canadian companies grew rapidly and thrived, were able to attract world-class talent from areas such as agriculture, security, public affairs, academic research, human resources, education, and training. The achievements made were only possible because the cannabis industry was federally regulated.
There will be a chance for everyone involved in the cannabis sector, directly and indirectly, to be a part of this national conversation. With a piece of legislation as encompassing as this, there will be a lot of topics to cover. Here are some areas that we expect to be addressed:
Respect of the Cannabis Sector – Currently, Health Canada is responsible for oversight of the Cannabis Act with a focus on ensuring the continued health and safety of Canadians. Although revenue generation was not specifically outlined as an objective of the Cannabis Act, the sale and production of cannabis offer significant revenue potential. The cannabis sector is frequently excluded or restricted from participating in federal economic programs or grants. Any review should include consideration of moving the oversight of cannabis into a federal ministry that would include an economic mandate, such as Agriculture and Agri-Food, Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade, or Economic Development.
Softening Restrictions on Marketing – Right now, Canadian businesses cannot market their products or retail stores to Canadian consumers. As US-based companies continue to market and promote their products using marketing channels and methods that are accessible by Canadians, we will find it more challenging to control the narrative about cannabis product availability and safety in our own country. Time and experience have shown that it is possible to allow cannabis brand development while supporting the initial legislative goals around health and safety. It will be important to emphasize changes to ensure that regulations are common-sense, applied more consistently, and clearly understood.
Reducing the Size and Reach of the Illegal Market – Although different measures of success will be used to determine the success of the roll-out of legal cannabis in Canada, the current reality is that the illegal cannabis market in Canada continues to thrive. We need to allow people to interact with and access cannabis products in the way that they want to. Whether that be in person within a private retail store or purchasing from their preferred private retailer online and having the product delivered to their home, if consumers cannot access cannabis in a legal way that is convenient and comfortable for them, they will continue to purchase from the illegal sources that offer that convenience and comfort. This review will allow us to encourage lawmakers to expand market access for private retailers, reduce barriers, and streamline processes to transition legacy operators to legal, and further reduce the stigmas associated with cannabis.
Details surrounding the review have yet to be announced by the Government of Canada; however, no matter the process, it will be important for all members of the cannabis community to participate in this process. The past three years have shown that legalizing cannabis for recreational purposes while restricting youth access, protecting public health and safety, and ensuring access to legal, regulated product is possible and has been successful. The next three years should be focused on maximizing the economic benefits that the sector offers, embracing opportunities for innovation and growth, and marketing our policy and industry expertise to the world.